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A country of hope and despair

I slept with great difficulty on Tuesday night. I kept on thinking about the interactive dialogue we had had at the District Six Homecoming Centre early in the evening. Some of the issues raised were very intense and worrying, but what made them special was the way in which they were raised. We were just a group of South Africans who love our country and who want it to succeed.

The topic of discussion at the event – which was co-hosted by the Community Chest of the Western Cape, the District Six Museum and the One City, Many Cultures Project – was The South Africa We All Want To Live In and, from the first contribution, I knew we were going to have a special conversation.

At these dialogues, we turn the traditional panel discussion on its head, starting with a discussion from the floor before inviting a few respondents to comment.

The first contribution was from a Manenberg father who is worried about the safety of his daughters in a crime-ridden community. The desperation in his voice showed how much he is affected by this situation. Most of us, irrespective of political affiliation, want the same things in life: we want opportunities for ourselves and our children and we want safety and security for our families.

After he spoke, the father, who did not want to be identified, said he needed to leave because he had to take public transport home, when someone in the audience offered to give him a lift home so that he would not have to miss the rest of the dialogue. It showed that, in every situation, one can always find good people.

One of the other impassionate contributions came from a student at CPUT who spoke about the hell of living in Khayelitsha. “I feel safe here now, but I will have to return to Khayelitsha afterwards where I will not be safe,” he said.

One of the rules of these dialogues is that people are not invited based on political affiliation. We have learned from bitter experience that, when people trumpet their political party agenda, it interferes with their ability to engage with others in a constructive dialogue.

But a young man from the Black First Land First movement delivered probably one of the most moving contributions of the evening, asking why the gangland killings on the Cape Flats are not described as a genocide and are not seen as a crisis.

But he spoke in the way we have become used to at these dialogues, not pushing the agenda of the political party he supports.

Crime was not the only issue raised. Other topics included the process of changing the name of what is currently known as Zonnebloem back to District Six, the lack of job creation and the need for entrepreneurship training, the worrying state of the South African economy, the public transport crisis in the Western Cape, the state of NGOs and the role that they should be playing to keep government to account, the marginalisation of young people in our society, the need to improve our education system, drug abuse particularly on the Cape Flats, among many others.

There were also some contributions from people who described themselves as “part of the elite who have no idea what most South Africans are experiencing on a daily basis”.

The overwhelming feeling at this dialogue, which was the final one in a series that started in January, was that we cannot depend on government to do everything for us. South Africans have to take their future in their own hands.

As someone said, “We should not only talk about the South Africa we want to live in, we should all start building it today.”

In the end, I felt hopeful that, despite the many problems we face in our society, there is hope that we will be able to pull through. We defeated apartheid. We can defeat anything else that is thrown at us. But we can only do that if we stand together and we look at the potential contribution that people can make, despite their backgrounds, history and political affiliation.

The contributions made at all the dialogues will be published in a special book, which should come out in the next few months. Our aim is to make sure that everyone in some position of influence has a copy, so that they can understand people are saying about the country in which they want to live.

Doing the decent thing like #NkosikhoMbele should be the norm, not a shock

It is a sign of how messed up we are as a society that, when someone does something decent, s/he is turned into a hero. Doing the decent thing should be the norm, but we have become a society where we expect politicians to be corrupt and everyone else to be bad and, when someone does something nice, we are surprised.

One example is the outpouring of support that has been shown to Nkosikho Mbele, a petrol attendant who paid R100 out of his own pocket to buy petrol for motorist Monet van Deventer, who had left her card at home.

She started a crowd-funding account for Mbele as a token of appreciation and the social media campaign quickly generated just under R500000.

The company that Mbele works for offered to match the online contributions by making a donation of R500 000 to a charity of his choice. They have also earmarked him for one of their special company awards and are flying him to Tanzania to receive it.

But Mbele did not do what he did because he expected a payment in return. He did what he thought was the right thing to do and the reward was totally unexpected, but well-deserved.

Unrelated to this, but similar in nature because of the response from the public, has been the way many people have reacted to Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul and his promise to deliver “servant leadership”. He has banned new cars for his MECs and bought ambulances instead.

Unlike his counterparts in other provinces, who were inaugurated in plush provincial legislatures, Saul’s inauguration took place in an informal settlement. He has also banned pictures of the premier and MECs at provincial buildings.

Saul’s behaviour, while commendable, should have been the norm after we became a democracy. After all, our struggle was never about creating opportunities for the few, but bringing dignity to the majority of our population.

Maybe, when the ANC took over the government in 1994, they should have revisited all the apartheid-era practices and not just adopted them. Just because they were now applying to a democratic government, did not make them right. Under apartheid, public representatives were put on a pedestal. We should have done differently in our democracy.

I remember in the early 1980s, my political mentor, Johnny Issel, started a few trade unions and one of the rules for those who worked there was that they could not earn more than the workers they represented. If they wanted to earn more, they had to make sure that the workers they organised, also earned more.

Some people would argue that this was false socialism, but the principle is important. Imagine if our politicians’ salaries depended on how well our economy was doing or how many jobs they were able to create? Imagine if politicians earned as much as the lowest earners in our society?

For many politicians, it has become about how much money they can earn, how many benefits they can generate and how they can use their positions to benefit themselves and their families in other ways. For instance, by becoming involved in businesses as shareholders or directors.

The primary purpose of becoming public servants should always be to serve, as Premier Saul has reminded us. One would hope that those in other provinces, and also in national government and local government, would take note of what he is doing and look for ways to emulate his actions.

I hope that soon we will get to the point where the actions of a Nkosikho Mbele and a Zamani Saul are what we expect to happen naturally.

We should be holding everyone, but especially supposed public servants, to higher values than we do at the moment. We did not struggle for kindness and servant leadership to be the exception. It should be the rule in our country.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 8 June 2019)

Stories continue to unfold that have no place in SA 25 years into democracy

How does one fix a country as broken as South Africa? We have many issues to deal with, and we would like to believe that many of them are uniquely South African.

As everyone waited with bated breath for the announcement of the Cabinet by President Cyril Ramaphosa this week, I was more concerned with some of the things happening elsewhere in society, all somehow linked to politics in different ways.

In the past week or so, the body of award-winning journalist Junior Bonase was found next to the N1 in the Free State; Angelo Agrizzi, the notorious former Bosasa executive who has spilled the beans on the company’s bribing of politicians at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, was hauled to the Equality Court for racist comments; and Julius Malema has once again issued veiled threats against journalists who have continued to write about alleged wrongdoing by him and the party he leads.

We have also seen Satawu (SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union) threatening to go on strike at Transnet because of what they say are pay discrepancies based on race.

According to Satawu, black workers earn less than their white counterparts at Transnet. To people who have been in the media industry for a long time, the stories listed above are normal in South Africa, but one would have expected them to become less normal, especially since we are celebrating 25 years of democracy this year.

Take, for instance, the case of Bonase. It was not unusual under apartheid for journalists who exposed illegal activities to disappear mysteriously or to end up dead. But one would not expect something like this to happen in a democracy. Without pointing fingers, this incident just appears strange and one hopes that the police will solve it urgently.

One of the most amazing things for me about the Agrizzi racism case is that there are people who are still surprised that such racism exists. Powerful people often think that they can abuse their power without consequences, which is what appears to have happened in the Agrizzi case.

The Malema incident worries me the most, especially since there appear to be many young people who have been taken in by the obvious racial polarisation that he is promoting.

Malema’s comment, in a tweet, was a reaction to journalists writing about the EFF’s involvement and benefit from the VBS Bank scandal. He said: “We are still cruising nicely, bana ba baloi are not happy. Go for kill fighters, hit hard”

Malema is a populist and populists are dangerous because they depend on sound bites and half-truths to push their agendas. They believe in the truth only if it suits their purposes. The fact that he seems to be able to pursue a racist agenda against his opponents could make his supporters feel that it is okay for them also to be racist.

The final story, about pay disparities, is shocking because, once again, it is not something that one would expect to happen in a democracy.

I began my journalism career in 1980, at a paper which targeted coloured people. It was one of the few places that people like me could find work in those days. Most of the mainstream papers mainly employed white journalists. But within a few months, we discovered that we were earning half of what our white counterparts with similar experience and qualifications earned. We went on strike and all got handsome increases. I did not expect to see this scenario repeating itself in 2019.

South Africa has many problems and, unless we deal with them comprehensively, we will continue to see stories like these in our media. This should not happen in a democracy.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 1 June 2019)

As we shakily place trust in new MPs, citizens must help keep them in check

It was sad to watch the bright-eyed new Members of Parliament being sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday and to find oneself thinking: When will they be corrupted or when will corruption allegations be made against them?

It’s a sad situation when one cannot look at MPs, who are supposed to be among the most exemplary citizens, without thinking the worst. But the allegations that have been made almost daily at the Zondo Commission into state capture have forced us to trust our so-called public representatives only as far as we can see them.

Many of those who succumbed to bribes and corruption over the past 25 years (corruption did not start under Jacob Zuma, just ask those involved in the arms deal or the Sarafina! scandal, remember that?) have besmirched their honourable name and those of their colleagues.

Even those who are honourable, will spend months, if not years, restoring the integrity of their names, but also the integrity of Parliament, an institution in which all South Africans should be able to have trust. The confidence in our public representatives is at an all-time low. 

The good news is that it probably won’t get worse and can get better, especially if those with morality and ethics once again put their stamp on Parliament and the Cabinet. Our public representatives will hopefully follow good leadership, which is what the president promised and which is what distinguished South Africans, such as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and former public protector Thuli Madonsela, urged after the elections.

There have been good signs over the past few days, including ANC deputy president David Mabuza, declining to be sworn in until he addressed the concerns of the party’s integrity commission, and others like Malusi Gigaba, Baleka Mbete and Nomvula Mokonyane withdrawing their names.

There have also been positive comments from some of the newly elected premiers, such as Gauteng’s David Makhura, and KZN’s Sihle Zikalala vowing to promote clean governance and fight corruption. But we, the electorate, have been burnt before. We entrusted our hopes and dreams in the hands of people who have been less than honest, serving to enrich only themselves, their families and closest comrades.

It is up to us to be more vigilant and take ownership of our democracy. Democracy requires those of us who are not in Parliament to make sure that those who are supposed to serve us, do so diligently and without being compromised.

We should insist that public representatives declare all their assets and business dealings, so we can scrutinise them. Those who are economical with the truth, should be fined or expelled. When was the last time an honourable member was fired for dishonesty? The events of especially the past 10 years or so have shown the need for greater vigilance over the government by civil society.

There should be nothing greater than serving one’s country. But we have seen many people forgetting that they were supposed to serve the people, thinking instead that they were supposed to help themselves.

It is time to restore the dignity of the public service. When the new MPS become old hands, they must know that they served without conflict, without compromise and without a hint of corruption or bribery. We won’t be able to move forward unless we root out corruption.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 25 May 2019)

Nurturing social cohesion, creating jobs two sides of same coin to uplift SA

Just over a week since we voted in our sixth democratic elections and South Africans once again demonstrated to the world the power of tolerance and patience, there are already signs that, in the minds of some people at least, it is going to be more of the same over the next few years.

An incident which has caused me some disturbance involved a Stellenbosch emeritus professor sexually assaulting a woman waiter and calling another woman the K-word, in Observatory last week.

Retired professor Leon de Kock has since been arrested and charged with crimen injuria.

An incident such as this is probably understandable in an environment where the Freedom Front Plus with its racist policies has increased its share of the national vote, emboldening many who long for the days of apartheid. 

Another incident that has provoked anger inside me is the complaint by “a single resident” over the call to prayer (athaan) at the Zeenatul Masjid in District Six - the Muir Street Mosque - an institution that has been standing for more than 100 years. The city will now investigate this complaint after the holy month of Ramadaan.

Why anyone would move into the area and then complain about one of Islam’s sacred traditions, is beyond me. I suppose this is one of the dangers of gentrification, when people of a particular hue and class move into previously black working-class areas and then try to change everything to suit their needs.

A few years ago, at the Cape Town Festival hosted in the Company’s Gardens, a young man came to me five minutes after we started performances, demanding to know when we were going to stop. It was just after 10am and we were going to continue until 6pm, was the bad news I had for him.

He then told me that he moved into the area recently and nobody told him that he was going to have to deal with noise from concerts in the gardens. Throughout that day, the police came about five times to check our noise exemption permit after they had received complaints from residents, probably the same resident.

I was so angry that a complaint by one person (or even a few) had the potential to spoil the day for everyone else who came out because of their belief in tolerance and wanting to learn from different cultures and religions.

One of the priorities for the new government should be to promote social cohesion and integration in an active way, not just through a few events every year.

But my biggest concern this week, as the president contemplates how he is going to deliver on a cleaner and leaner cabinet, was the release of the latest employment figures by Statistics South Africa. It is an indication that the so-called new dawn will not be as easy to implement, even after a vote of confidence by the electorate.

The small amount by which the unemployment figure went up to 27.6% shows that, despite the good work done by the president to attract investments into South Africa, he has still not been able to make a difference where it matters - providing jobs to the most vulnerable in our society.

The president seems to talk a good economic story and his previous involvement in business makes one want to believe him, but it is difficult when one has rising unemployment as well as rising inflation, built on the back of steep petrol and diesel prices.

To some it might seem that building tolerance and creating jobs are at opposite ends of the needs list, but they are not. They are both important if we want to take our country forward.

Jobs are important, but so is the need to understand the complexities of our vibrant and diverse country. One cannot be achieved without the other.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 18 May 2019)

A public servant who is worth his weight in gold

Politicians have a habit of trying to discredit politics, often giving a bad name and reputation to anybody who might be involved in public service. This is not a South African phenomenon, it happens the world over.

One of the people who has consistently, over the past 25 years of democracy, brought integrity and earned the respect of many from different political parties, is the Reverend Courtney Sampson, Western Cape provincial head of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

It appears that Sampson, who has presided over elections in the Western Cape since 1999, might have overseen his last election. He has indicated that he wants to step down.

His wisdom will be sorely missed.

I have known Courtney for years, since the days he was a parish priest at the local Anglican Church in Hanover Park where I lived. He was always supportive of the work we were doing as young people trying to conscientise other youngsters about the Struggle against apartheid.

He would not hesitate to make the church available for meetings, even though at a risk: there might be a backlash from conservative congregants and he might have attracted the attention of the security police, that infamous police branch that dealt with political troublemakers (basically those fighting apartheid and injustice).

Over the years, I have been privileged to call him my friend, but he has always been much more than that. He has also been a mentor and someone I can call on when I have complex matters that I am struggling to understand.

Courtney has always been able to make sense of what appears to be complicated issues, doing so by remaining calm while everyone around him were losing their heads. When I was doing the research for my book, Race, which deals with race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa, I was worried that I was unhealthily obsessed with race and questioned whether that meant that I was racist. Courtney pointed out to me the difference between being racist and thinking of race. It made a huge difference to what I eventually wrote.

One of the examples of how he has managed to remain calm amid potential storms was this week when someone shared on social media pictures of what appeared to be separate queues for black and white voters in Wellington, immediately crying racism.

Courtney, I suppose after years of working with politicians, did not rush to buy into the racism claims but investigated it first. It appeared to have been a simple logistical arrangement. Most of the black voters made to queue separately were students who wanted to vote outside of their voting district but had to fill in a special form to do so. To speed up the process, they were asked to queue separately. They happened to be black, while most of the other voters happened to be white.

Now in his sixties and after more than 20 years of working for the IEC, it is not unusual or unexpected for Courtney to want to move on. Good leaders know when to step up, but also when to step down. I wish him well in whatever he decides to do and know that he will make a success.

Over the years I have interacted with many public servants who have given me confidence that, despite the best (or worst) attempts by some politicians, our public service is in good hands. Courtney is one of those, but not the only one. It's a pity that the actions of a few corrupt politicians often overshadow the good work of many honest public servants.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 11 May 2019)

Coalitions can lead to party members, supporters feeling betrayed

When the dust settles on next Wednesday’s election and the final votes have been counted, irrespective of who wins or loses, there will be fervent looks around at who would be possible alliance partners, whether it is at national or provincial level.

The nature of politics is that alliances may differ from national to provincial level and even from province to province.

One of the most interesting alliances of recent years has been the one between the EFF and the DA.

But before that, there had been a coalition of sorts between the ANC and the National Party, the two biggest opponents during the apartheid years: one trying to ensure the continuation of our race-based society and the other one opposing it with all its might. At the height of the Struggle against apartheid, no one could have foreseen the future co-operation between the two parties, which finally led to the demise of the NP.

Before the last local government elections, nobody would have bet on an alliance between the DA and the EFF, two very different political parties - one representing what is seen in many areas as an old and white constituency, while desperately wanting to be relevant to black voters, and the other representing young and black voters frustrated by what they believe to be empty promises by established political parties, but mainly the ANC.

After dissecting the utterings from politicians in the last few weeks, it looks highly unlikely that anyone would want to be in alliance with anyone else. There has been a lot of hatred and intolerance spewed out by politicians.

But come a few days after the elections, when all the votes have been counted and the calculations of power have been made, some of these politicians who have been fighting with each other will become each other’s best friends.

Politics, after all, is all about numbers. It is about making sure that, firstly, enough people vote for you so that you can rule by yourself and, if that does not work, looking at who you need to get into bed with in order to make sure you keep your worst enemies out.

Many DA members felt betrayed by the alliances the party made with the EFF in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay after the last local government elections, but they were prepared to grin and bear it because it meant that, for the first time, the DA got the mayorship of major metros outside of the Western Cape.

The unfortunate thing is that this spirit of toenadering and camaraderie does not often go down to the ordinary members and supporters of political parties who, before the elections, took their line from their leaders who will now appear to be deserting them in pursuit of political alliances.

The bitterness and hatred that has been spread during the election campaign will take longer to erase from poor communities who have been told to hate people with a bit more privilege than them. In many cases, political electioneering promotes hatred and sometimes even violence. Yet, the same people who promoted intolerance might soon find themselves in alliance with others against whom they campaigned not too long ago.

It is probably a tall order to think that politicians will be more deliberate in their utterances and will think about the long-term consequences of what they say. But, again, I suppose politics is not about the long term, it is about how many votes they can get in the short term so that they and some of their supporters can also get on board the political gravy train.

All of us should have the interests of South Africa at heart and we need to show this in our words and our actions.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 4 May 2019)

#FreedomDay: We sacrificed for right to vote

In less than two weeks, South Africans will be able to vote for a new government or will continue to support the old one. The ANC’s promise of a “new dawn” has been met with scepticism in some parts, but to be honest, none of the opposition parties have put up their hand to attract people who might not want to put their fate in the ANC’s hands again.

Most people know the story of the ANC, the once-glorious liberation movement that became mired in corruption, mainly because it made some seriously bad leadership choices. But I want to look at the opposition parties, those in Parliament and those who are hoping to be there after May 8.

The DA is increasingly showing that they are a party struggling to deal with political realities in democratic South Africa. Quite often the actions of the party betray the “D” in their name.

The DA can rightly feel that their dominance in the Western Cape is under threat after the shoddy way they treated former mayor Patricia de Lille, whose own Good movement is hoping to put in a decent enough showing in the Western Cape, taking away some support from the DA, which could see them ending up as kingmakers in the province.

If this happens, don’t be surprised to see De Lille assuming the premiership as part of an alliance of “anyone but the DA”.

De Lille is the closest thing to a political celebrity in the Western Cape. At the recent Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she struggled to see any of the acts because she would be confronted every couple of minutes by people who wanted to take selfies with her. Whether that is an indication of her electoral support remains to be seen.

The EFF has some appeal to post-apartheid youth who feel that the state should provide them with everything, including free education, housing, wi-fi and land, among many others. The EFF manifesto is unrealistic and dangerous, because they do not seem to consider where the state is supposed to get the money to pay for giving everything away for free to its citizens. But while the EFF seems to be the popular party for the Twitter generation, they do not appear to have the support where it matters among the electorate because many young people have not bothered to register to vote.

The ACDP has been very active in areas such as Mitchells Plain, where I have seen their campaign workers trudging the streets on Saturday mornings. They have also had a strong push to gain support from church leaders, especially in the “coloured” areas. It remains to be seen whether the ACDP will become more than a party that wins a reasonably insignificant amount of the vote at election time.

One of the proverbial dark horses, in the Western Cape at least, is the Land Party, which was started by former disgruntled members of the ANC and the EFF which, incidentally, is also a party of former disgruntled ANC members.

Another party of former disgruntled ANC members is Cope who seemed to have run out of people to support them. Bantu Holomisa’s UDM could also be seen as disgruntled former ANC members, but the former homeland general appears to have retained a decent relationship with the party that expelled him.

It is difficult to see single-issue parties such as the Land Party or the Green Party making significant inroads among the electorate. Our society is complex and parties with solutions to more than one of our serious issues are more likely to be taken seriously by the voters.

I am finding it difficult to decide on a party deserving of my vote in the Western Cape, but come May 8, I will be at my local polling station to cast my vote. We fought too hard not to exercise our right to vote.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 27 April 2019)

Remembering two dear friends who took on apartheid

We said our goodbyes to two special people this week - from two different cities and two separate parts of my life.

I awoke early on Tuesday to the news that Achmat Semaar, an old friend and comrade from Mitchells Plain, died in hospital the night before, after experiencing a heart attack. He was 72.

There was a message on my phone about the death of veteran journalist Zuby Mayet, who had passed away at her home in Lenasia, Gauteng, over the weekend. She was 80.

Semaar and Mayet influenced my life in different ways - in community activism and journalism.

Semaar was one of the elders whom we respected in Mitchells Plain in the 1980s when we were involved in the Struggle. He became involved after the detention of several young people in the area and which brought together parents who feared for the safety of their children.

He later became involved in the Mitchells Plain Advice Office, which led to him serving a stint as a paralegal. Later, he would work in the ANC parliamentary constituency offices of Trevor Manuel and then Derek Hanekom. Until his death, he was a board member of the Mitchells Plain Skills Centre established by Manuel.

Manuel was abroad when Semaar was buried on Tuesday afternoon but sent a message of condolences to the family. Semaar’s funeral attracted prominent people, among them judges and members of the ANC’s leadership in the province, but also many activists from years gone by.

Ebrahim Rasool, who is spearheading the ANC’s election campaign in the province, said the party suspended its campaign for a few hours out of respect for Semaar, who had remained loyal to the ANC until his death.

A memorial service for Semaar has been planned at Glendale High School in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain, from 2pm today.

Mayet’s influence on me was probably more at a distance than Semaar’s because we were from two cities almost 1500km apart and from different generations of journalists.

I became involved in the Writers’ Association of South Africa in 1980, at a time when Mayet and others were stepping aside after having been at the forefront for years.

Mayet was part of the executive of Wasa and its forerunner, the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ), which had been banned during the government’s crackdown on political and media organisations on October 19, 1977, which is commemorated annually as Media Freedom Day.

Her involvement in journalism included being part of the Drum Writers of the 1950s - with people such as Can Themba and Nat Nakasa - and being part of the journalist union leadership.

In 2017, on the 40th anniversary of Black Wednesday, the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards, which I chair, honoured Mtimkulu who recalled the story of how he and Mayet (who was the UBJ treasurer) had withdrawn all the UBJ’s money from its bank account minutes after the organisation was banned. Technically, the money then belonged to the state. They were charged with theft. The charges were later withdrawn.

South Africans forget easily, but we should never allow ourselves to forget the contributions hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Africans made in the fight against apartheid. Without their contribution, we might never have achieved our freedom, imperfect as it is.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 20 April 2019)

Let's move beyond placing our faith blindly in politicians

We are now only a few weeks away from the national and provincial elections on May 8 and, at times like this, I wish I could be a party hack - one of those people who follow their political parties and leaders blindly and without questioning.

For party hacks, the decision about where to put their cross on election day is easy. They don’t need persuading; they don’t need to think. They’ll just put their cross next to the party they will follow to the end of the world, if need be. Of course, in most cases it is more about the leader than the party and that is probably more dangerous.

Others, like me and most others, I assume, do not have it that easy. We will try to assess the track record and history of each party in an attempt to make sure that they are worthy of our vote. The unfortunate thing is that even those who analyse parties before we decide whether we should vote for them, often base our assessment on political leaders as opposed to political parties.

This is, I suppose, a natural thing to do. People tend to make many of their decisions based on personalities rather than policies.

There are some people in the ANC who will want us to believe that the governing party can self-correct after almost 10 years of going wayward. They blame their loss of direction on one Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, who appeared to be more interested in his, his family’s and some other family’s well-being as opposed to the country’s well-being.

Since Cyril Ramaphosa became president of the ANC in December 2017 and president of the country on Valentine’s Day last year, his disciples in the ANC have been talking about a new dawn which will purportedly put our country back on the path to economic and social recovery.

He has made nice noises and some of the right moves and has been trying to promote a collective responsibility mindset among South Africans, something that has not been accepted universally. Many people feel the ANC is responsible for the mess that we are in and the ANC must clean it up.

Ramaphosa’s new dawn does not appear to be universally accepted within the ANC, which appears to be more faction-ridden than ever.

Many people are asking: if we vote for the ANC on May 8, are we voting for the “new dawn” of Ramaphosa or are we voting for a continuation of the corruption of the past 10 years at least?

The violent response to a book about the ANC secretary-general’s reportedly corrupt past has made it clear that there are people in the ANC who want to hold on to the past. As secretary-general, Ace Magashule is effectively the chief executive of ANC Inc, while Ramaphosa is chairperson. A stand-off between the two will have to come sooner rather than later. Who will win will determine the future of this country and not only of the ANC.

South Africans often naively believe in giving politicians the benefit of the doubt. They did it for years with Jacob Zuma and, before democracy, white South Africans blindly followed the National Party for almost 50 years of apartheid rule.

But we need to move beyond the notion of placing our faith blindly in politicians just because they are supposed to be leaders. I intend to think very carefully about where I am placing my cross on May 8. Over the next few weeks, I will look at some of the other parties and why one should or should not vote for them.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 13 April 2019)

Ubuntu? No, SA has a penchant for intolerance

South Africa is known throughout the world for Ubuntu – which roughly means a shared humanity – but our beloved country sure has a lot of intolerance, and even more so in an election year.

One can expect heightened intolerance when political parties are competing for your vote, but there is a part of me that worries about whether, amid the crazy tensions, political parties do not expose their true selves.

ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte showed intolerance towards the media through her verbal attack on eNCA’s Samkelo Maseko at an ANC media briefing this week. It was not so much what she said but the sub-text that she has very little respect for journalists.

I am a journalist and one who, unlike Maseko as Duarte rightly pointed out, fought in the Struggle for the media freedom that we enjoy today. But it was never about media freedom.

It was always about a package of rights that form part of being a democratic society. Neither Duarte nor any other politician can take away this hardwon right, unless they take away our democracy too, which, it seems, quite a few politicians would like to do when the heat is turned on them, which is the work of journalists.

These politicians are not confined to the ruling party. There are many in the opposition ranks who have exposed similar intolerant streaks.

Journalists are not meant to be lapdogs of any politician or political party, but they are meant to interrogate the words and actions of public representatives on behalf of the people politicians and the media are meant to serve. In a perfect democracy, I suppose, there will always be tensions between journalists and politicians.

If there is no tension, it probably means that one is not doing her job properly. I was one of those who foolishly believed that the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy in South Africa meant the end of intolerance towards the media.

No doubt, things were worse under apartheid. I worked for several publications that were banned. When I worked for Grassroots community newspaper our offices were placed under 24-hour police guard – in case we tried to enter our place of work – and I have had my share of detention and arrest.

For those who might not know, detention was when the police could lock you up without any reason and without having to tell your family or friends where they were holding you.

When they arrested you, it meant that they intended to charge you with a crime such as promoting the aims of the banned ANC or possessing banned publications.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists sacrificed during the Struggle, either working for publications that were banned or being arrested or detained. I suspect that, if Maseko had the misfortune to be born earlier, he would probably have been one of them.

But intolerance in South Africa is not restricted to fights between politicians and the media. It can be found everywhere in our society. Many South Africans are known to be intolerant towards people who look and sound different to them, people who might be from a different race, class, age, sex, African country, or have a different sexual preference.

We are also often intolerant towards people who do not necessarily peddle what we believe to be the truth or display different opinions. We often see things as purely black and white – which is ironic for a country with South Africa’s history – and we struggle to accept that most issues in society are grey.

But all of this is probably good for our democracy. It means that, at some level, people are feeling challenged, even if they do not want to admit it. Expect to see more intolerance in the run-up to the May 8 elections. But do not expect it to end soon afterwards. This is all part of being a democracy.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 6 April 2019)

Arts and culture are as important to our society as education or housing

Something happened at the free concert of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on Wednesday night, something that I have seen at some other events, but I have always found it fascinating yet understandable in our digital age.

As soon as the South African singer Shekhinah arrived on stage just before 10pm, the audience lit up, with the light coming from hundreds, if not thousands, of cellphones wanting to record the moment - for Instagram, for prosperity or maybe just for the heck of it.

Shekhinah, from Durban, became popular through South African Idols, in which she participated twice, the second time making the top six in 2012.

But much has happened since then and, clearly, many of the people who were gathered on Greenmarket Square - some from as early as 4pm - were there to see her perform.

Yes, there were other performances, but she appeared to be the main attraction, as could be seen by the number of people who left after she performed even though there was still one act to come.

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Earlier, she had performed as the opening act for English singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran, who was performing down the road at the Cape Town stadium.

I was not privileged to attend Sheeran’s show - the tickets were a bit pricey but clearly there are many Capetonians who do not worry about such trivial matters such as spending a small fortune on an overseas artist.

But I always enjoy the free concert because it is one of the rare opportunities for what many call “ordinary people” to enjoy the inner city at night and to be treated to a free concert by some of the best local artists with a sprinkling of international acts.

Earlier in the day, there was a conversation with some government officials about how to grow audiences for arts and culture in general - for theatre, music, dance and other art forms - but also how to develop a reading culture in our country.

I have been thinking about this issue the whole week, especially after attending a concert last Saturday at the Baxter Theatre featuring the masterful guitarist Selaelo Selota, where I was disappointed at the poor attendance.

Yes, it is the Baxter and even R150 for a ticket can be expensive, especially in the week before pay day, but I expected more than the handful of people who came to experience one of the best concerts I have been to in a while.

In a country such as South Africa, where inequality, unemployment and poverty continue to remind us of how far we still have to go as a democracy, there are people who argue - and probably with some merit - that there are more important things to worry about than developing audiences for arts and culture events.

But arts and culture are as important as many of the other pressing issues facing our society. They should not be competing against decent education, housing, health care and job creation. They should be complementing the other needs in our society.

A nation without proper arts and culture is a poor nation. Music, especially, feeds the soul and sometimes helps to make the burden of live a little easier. Arts and culture help us to see the world differently and could also help us to think differently about the problems we face.

I try to support local music and events as much as possible and that is why I am attending the CTIJF for its 20th birthday this weekend - even though it was reasonably expensive to pay for the entrance fee and the Rosies tickets for my wife and me. But those of us who can afford to pay should pay so that the organisers can arrange free concerts so that those who cannot afford can also have their Instagram moment with Shekhinah and other stars. Some people call it audience development.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 30 March 2019)

#Loadshedding leaving us blind to the tragedies unfolding around us

When we were small and complained to my mother about how bad things were, she always reminded us that no matter how bad our situation might seem, there is also someone else somewhere else whose situation was probably worse.

My mother was not an educated woman, in the formal sense of the word, but she was one of the wisest people I was fortunate to know and I learnt a lot of lessons from her, which would benefit me greatly later in life.

This week was one of those weeks when faced with load shedding after load shedding after load shedding - no, scrap that, we were faced with rolling blackouts - as South Africans we could still look elsewhere and think about how lucky we are.

I am not saying we are not in trouble. The rolling blackouts have played havoc with most people’s lives, no matter where you find yourself. You can be rich or poor, black or white, but the blackouts would have affected you. Eskom, it seems, is an equal opportunity offender.

While I am offended as everyone else by what has happened to our nation’s power supply - and one can easily blame corruption if the revelations at the Zondo Commission into state capture can be believed - I am not prepared to take joint responsibility, as we were encouraged by the president this week.

Those who should take responsibility are the thousands who work at Eskom and the small group who looted this state-owned entity at the behest of an even smaller group who belonged to, it seems, mainly two families and their extended base of hangers-on. The responsibility should also rest with those people who turned a blind eye even when they knew that wrongdoing was going on.

But while Eskom was playing havoc with production and people’s schedules generally, elsewhere in the world there were worse things going on, which could have made some of us say: "I’m glad to be in South Africa."

There have been gross displays of violent intolerance, the worst being in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a right-wing terrorist gunned down innocent worshippers in two mosques during the holy Jummah prayers last Friday - while live-streaming his actions.

But the worst tragedy happened not far from us, across our borders, literally. Cyclone Idai, one of the biggest cyclones in recent history, hit parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing and injuring thousands and displacing millions.

More than 90% of Mozambique’s fourth-largest city, Beira, has been destroyed. According to reports, Beira has been reduced to a small island. One report said this was possibly the worst disaster to strike the southern hemisphere.

Our thoughts and sympathies should have been with the people of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi immediately and we should have been finding ways in which we could help. But South Africans don’t naturally jump to the assistance of people in neighbouring countries, unless we are directly affected.

In this case, we are, because a large part of South Africa’s electricity supply comes from Mozambique and the cyclone destroyed many pylons in its path, effectively cutting off the power supply to South Africa.

Several South African-based civil society organisations, such as Gift of the Givers and Doctors Without Borders, have been working in all three affected countries and President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent troops to help with rescuing people and restoring some semblance of normality - even though this will probably take years.

As South Africans commemorated Human Rights Day this week, we should have been thinking not only about how to secure our own human rights, but also how we can play a role in making the world a better and a safer place.

Ignoring intolerance anywhere in the world can impact on our human rights, as can ignoring climate change which can result in more tragedies such as that brought on by Cyclone Idai.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 23 March 2019)

Struggling to survive in gangland after being abandoned by Struggle comrades

You think you know somebody - until they die. I have often found myself in the position where, at a funeral or memorial of someone I considered a close comrade or friend, I found out things I did not know.

It was the same this week as I sat at the memorial for Roland Jethro, an old comrade from Hanover Park, who passed away last Sunday.

At the memorial on Wednesday, and in my interactions with family and friends, I realised that there was a lot that I did not know about him.

But I was also reminded of a lot of things that I had forgotten about him. That happens if you have known someone for more than 35 years.

I have always known Rolie, as we have always called him, as a complex person, but I suppose most of us are.

Rolie was a member of the Hanover Park Youth Movement in the early 1980s and we were close friends for a period, even dating two sisters in the area at some point.

But he was much more than a youth or community activist, as many of the people who delivered tributes on Wednesday confirmed.

He was a teacher, an “eco-socialist”, as Zelda Holtzman described him, a member of the progressive Western Province Mountain Club, an avid fisherman, and he loved spending time in nature, especially in the company of young people.

His cousin, Michelene Fortuin, reminded us of a tragedy that had befallen Rolie when he was 20 years old. His brother had been stabbed by gangsters in Hanover Park and subsequently died of his injuries.

This impacted on Rolie tremendously, and I remember walking with him from one end of Hanover Park to the other to visit the two sisters in question, and he would be armed with knives and small axes in his haversack, to use if we were attacked.

He offered me one of his weapons, but I politely declined because I have never been prone to any kind of violence.

Rolie was not a violent person, but living in gang-ridden Hanover Park and with the loss of his brother to violence, meant he considered violence a way of dealing with the problems in the area. Through his community activism, Rolie, like many of us at the time, got drawn into underground activities of the then-banned ANC and its military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe.

After a life of service to the community, he died disappointed with the organisation that he had admired and served for most of his life, which seemingly turned its back on him.

I watched ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs sit through several comments of criticism about the ANC at the memorial.

It must have been difficult to be surrounded by comrades, knowing that many of them had given up on the organisation that brought us liberation but then went off the rails.

If the ANC wants to have a realistic chance of regaining the Western Cape, it will have to think about the way it has neglected people such as Rolie, and by extension, the communities they represent.

All of us have changed over the years, but it was clear to me on Wednesday night that there are many people who still treasure the values that we grew up with in the Struggle.

Many of those people have lost faith in the ANC, as speaker after speaker related at the memorial.

It is difficult to know everything about anyone, because people share different parts of their lives and personalities with different people. I don’t know anybody who shares everything with all their friends.

I hope that Rolie’s death will help all of us to reflect on where we come from and where we were hoping to go as a nation.

It might help us get back on the path that we are supposed to be on.

May his soul rest in peace.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 March 2019)

Crime and corruption have spiralled out of control despite our Constitution

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a conversation among some low-level public servants in one of the Western Cape provincial departments. The conversation was about crime and what needs to be done to combat it.

Two of the comments have stuck with me, and I paraphrase: “Prisoners have more rights and privileges inside prison than people on the outside. They get three meals a day and free health care, which people on the outside don’t.” And: “As soon as you murder someone, you should hang. No discussion.”

I was not eavesdropping because the people having this discussion knew that I was there and could hear them, yet they felt comfortable having this conversation loudly in my presence. 

I realised that while the government is meant to be guided by one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, this does not necessarily mean that those lower down the pecking order understand the Constitution or, frankly, give a damn.

There is probably a huge need for public servants, at junior and senior levels, to be educated in what the Constitution says about basic human rights and how this should impact on government policy and service delivery.

The Constitution is quite clear on the unlawfulness of the death penalty and, barring a miracle, there is no way that South Africa will go back to implementing one of the most barbaric mechanisms to combat crime and one which has never been scientifically proven to be effective.

The fact that civil servants - and they were all, I suppose, speaking in their personal capacities - could harbour such thoughts on the death penalty and have such a negative attitude towards prisoners, worried me and I tried very hard to understand what drives these kinds of attitudes.

I suppose I am one of those naive people who thought that, once we became a democracy, the government would begin to put the interests of the majority at the centre of its programmes and that public servants would be guided by the Constitution and, in fact, be loyal to the Constitution.

But none of us could have anticipated that crime and corruption would spiral out of control and that personal greed among those who were supposed to be custodians of the public purse would threaten to derail our democracy.

I suppose many people are looking at how criminals are getting away with crime - and, lest we forget, corruption is a crime - and throwing up their hands in anguish. In their desperation to free our society of crime, they express the kind of negative attitudes that I witnessed first hand.

Public servants, and here I include government ministers, have more of a responsibility than the rest of us to live by example and to, for instance, raise their voices and take action when they see things going wrong. After all, they get paid to serve the public.

Too many people who are supposed to serve the public have turned a blind eye to corruption, meaning that those who have always been vocal about it have been isolated and threatened. In one case that I know of, Vernie Petersen, the former national commissioner of prison, died mysteriously after being put under pressure for opposing and wanting to expose corruption. In another case, Lennox Garane decided to take his life in protest against corruption and inaction in Parliament.

Both these cases were under the spotlight at a rally at St George’s Cathedral last Saturday called by a group known as #justice4vernie, consisting of family and friends of Petersen who are demanding that the circumstances around his death be properly investigated and that he be accorded proper acknowledgement for his anti-corruption stance.

Maybe Petersen and Garane are the kind of public servants who should be held up as role models for others who work in the government. Their stories should be shared and studied and could help to develop a better cadre of true public servants, not only in word but in deed.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 March 2019)

Don’t judge by racial identity

I was thinking of white privilege a lot this week, especially after seeing Jervis Pennington’s intriguing one-person play, An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life, at the Alexander Bar and Theatre, my favourite small theatre venue in Cape Town.

For those who can remember back to the early 1980s, Pennington was the frontman for a boy band called The Soft Shoes, who won a competition called Follow That Star, an earlier version of Idols.

They sold quite a few records but disappeared completely after a few years of popularity. Pennington subsequently did some other things in the entertainment industry but later found himself destitute and living on the streets of Cape Town.

The play should have had a bigger audience and here’s hoping that a bigger venue will give him an opportunity to tell his amusing stories and sing his specially-written songs about love and societal problems.

As someone who grew up poor on the Cape Flats, I could relate to many of the things he shared about growing up as a poor white in Johannesburg, especially having the same stuff on your school sandwiches day after day - when you were lucky to have sandwiches.

He grew up during the years of apartheid, but clearly, he did not take much advantage of his “white privilege” in those days. Please don’t get me wrong: white privilege is a reality and many whites, including those who were poor, benefited and took advantage of it.

But there were probably a few whose lives were so terrible that they did not even realise that they were entitled to this privilege. And then there were those who shunned their privilege.

In the apartheid days, we assumed that blacks were the good guys, because of apartheid oppression and exploitation. We assumed that whites were the bad guys, for the same reasons. But there were more than a handful of whites who were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, despite coming from privileged backgrounds.

Many years ago, when I was head of the journalism department at Peninsula Technikon, a leader of the SRC came to see me about enrolling a young woman into our programme. I explained to him that there was a very lengthy application process, including an interview after shortlisting, which she clearly did not do.

He eventually told me I should accept the young woman as a student - I have no idea what their relationship was - because he did not want to have to accuse me of being racist. Both him and the young woman were African. I asked him to leave my office. Later, my staff said that I was either brave or foolish to act so harshly against an SRC leader.

What I saw, however, was not a leader, but someone who was using his race to get others to bend rules for people like the young woman who did not even bother to apply to study in the department, but who would then insist on being accepted.

I was not going to allow myself to be bullied by a racist. We need to guard against treating everyone in the same way, based on their race. And this applies to blacks as well as whites.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 2 March 2019)

We should have gone for counselling after we became a democracy

On Tuesday night, I co-facilitated an interactive dialogue discussion at the District Six Homecoming Centre. A couple of things made it interesting.

The topic was “The South Africa we all want to live in” and it took the form of what I can only call an “inverted panel discussion”. We invited panellists, but they did not sit upfront. They sat in the audience and were allowed to respond only after we had heard a significant number of contributions from the floor.

In this way, we ensured that people who attended could set the agenda for the discussion without having to listen to a panel of speakers and then have only a few minutes at the end for questions and comments.

What was really interesting was that the event - organised by the Community Chest of the Western Cape, District Six Museum and the One City, Many Cultures Project - attracted more than 100 people without advertising the names of speakers.

My experience, until now, is that many people decide to attend certain events based on who is speaking.

The fact that so many people came to this discussion is probably an indication that ordinary South Africans want spaces free from political-party interference where they can talk about the problems facing our country and help to search for solutions.

If anything, Tuesday night’s discussion showed me that there is still a lot of hurt in our society and some of this hurt stretches back to the days of apartheid.

Issues raised including the “forgotten” people of the Western Cape, those who live on the Cape Flats or are homeless; the lack of restitution for the people who were forcibly removed from District Six, some of them 50 years ago; the need for the repatriation of human remains of our ancestors from foreign countries; gangsterism on the Cape Flats; food security; land; racism and violence, including the slapping of people in Parliament and schools; and the responsibility of the rich towards poor people.

The overall tone of the evening was not to complain, but rather to look for solutions to our many problems.

One of the invited respondents was Gabeba Gaidien, an impressive young woman who has been working in Manenberg and who spoke about how trauma was passed on from one generation to another in South Africa. One way of dealing with trauma was through education, she said.

I have always felt that, in South Africa, we moved too quickly from a situation of serious oppression to one of ubuntu and rainbow nationism. We never dealt with the trauma most of us suffered under apartheid but tried to forget it in the interest of building a new nation. All of us should probably have gone for counselling after we became a democracy.

Stanley Henkeman, the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, another of the invited respondents, summed up the evening by saying that there was a need for a new narrative in South Africa, but no one could write that narrative on their own.

The government needed to work with civil society and others in order to get to that narrative, he said.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening came towards the end when Pamela Court, whom I have known for many years, spoke about white privilege and how she still struggles with it, despite trying to live with a non-racialism credo for more than 30 years.

What this dialogue - and there will be a few more all over the Western Cape in the next two months - showed is that South Africans are prepared to talk to each other to look for solutions. As we head into the elections, political parties will try to exploit the divisions in our society.

I have hope that we have enough people who are prepared to rise above those divisions to work together for the South Africa we all want to live in.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 23 February 2019)

Eskom renders people powerless in the darkness that they subject SA to

Before I sat down to write this column, I had to check the load shedding schedule. I had to make sure there was enough time before the next Eskom-inspired electricity blackout for me to write and whether we would still be connected to Wi-fi by the time I would be ready to email it.

They say a week is a long time in politics. In South Africa, it becomes even longer if one has to deal with what is euphemistically called “rolling blackouts” or “stage four load shedding”. It should rather be called what it is: a complete and utter mess-up (I can’t believe that I can be so polite despite my anger).

Like most South Africans, I had to quickly adjust to load shedding terminology this week. I had to find out whether we would be without electricity only once a day or, in the case of stage four, three times a day. I had to download an app with load-shedding schedules.

It is difficult to plan around Eskom time, as opposed to African time, because quite often they don’t stick to their own schedules. The other night, they said we would get load shedding at 6.30pm, but it started at 6.10pm. But they also once said that we would get load shedding in the morning, and nothing happened.

I know there are many South Africans who live in informal housing and do not have access to electricity. But electricity, like water, is a basic human right in modern society and one which has become an integral part of our lives.

Having to schedule our lives around the availability of electricity is not easy, and it creates great discomfort in many households. You have to check that all your emergency devices are fully charged, that your gas tanks are loaded, that you have enough power on your laptop, and that you have enough candles.

You have to put hot water in a flask so that you can make a cup of tea or coffee when the lights are out. You have to make sure that you cook while there is still electricity and that you cook something that can be eaten cold because you might not be able to warm it up at supper time.

People whose businesses need to run without interruption have had to buy generators to make sure that they do not lose productivity or profits.

I am fortunate because I possess the means to travel from an area without electricity to one without load shedding. So, if we have to, we can just go and have dinner or to see a show in an area which is not affected, according to the load-shedding schedule.

Most people do not have this luxury and just have to deal with their circumstances.

About 10 years ago, I was working with a Ghanaian media company and was based in the capital, Accra. Part of my deal was a house with a water tank and a generator, which I found quite funny at the time. It looks like we are heading that way in South Africa, unless we can stop the damage that has already been done to Eskom.

There have been all kinds of speculation about the latest bout of load shedding, coming as it does a few days after President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a reasonable and workman-like, if not mind-blowing, State of the Nation speech in which he announced that elections will held on May 8 this year.

I would love to buy into the conspiracy theories about possible sabotage but I think it is probably more simple and sadder than that. Eskom is messed up, it is bloated, inefficient and lacks leadership. And that is probably more dangerous than any conspiracy.

Phew! I made it. I have a few more minutes to email my column before the lights go out once again.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 February 2019)

This Valentine's Day, mute your scepticism and celebrate all the loved ones in your life

On Thursday millions of people around the world will be clamouring to buy roses and make dinner reservations so that they can entertain someone special in their lives. It is, of course, Valentine’s Day, known as the day of love in many countries.

Irrespective of its origins, dating back many centuries, Valentine’s Day has become popular with people who are looking for love or who believe they have found love.

When we were young people growing up in the Struggle, we were sceptical about days like Valentine’s Day, seeing it only as a commercial opportunity introduced by the capitalists to exploit the vulnerable working class even more. The scepticism is still there, but it is muted somewhat. We all know that it is more about making money for people who sell roses, chocolates and other stuff associated with love, but we don’t mind playing along, within reason.

I almost always buy flowers for my wife on Valentine’s Day, but it might not be roses, because who decided that the best way to show your love is by buying roses? There is a demand for roses on this day which, of course, means that people who sell roses can increase their prices and make a lot of money in the process.

Most Valentine’s Days are filled with sadness for me, because I inevitably think about people who are no longer with us, people who might have played a role, directly or indirectly, in my life over the years. One such person is Vernie Petersen, the former national commissioner of prisons and director-general of sport who, it was revealed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in State Capture recently, resisted many attempts to corrupt him while he was the head of prisons.

It was through Vernie that I met the love of my life, my wife, who has been my life partner for almost 35 years. I was organising young people in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain, and Vernie, who was from Westridge, came around to check up how we were doing one Thursday night. In his brown VW Beetle were a few members of the youth group in Westridge. I only had eyes for one of them and she later became my wife.

This Valentine’s Day, I will be thinking especially about Vernie’s loved ones who were deprived of him way too soon.

It was difficult during the Struggle years. As activists, we were taught to be sceptical about everything, including love. It was not easy to admit to anyone that you had fallen in love. The many commitments we had, meetings almost every night after work, meant that love life often had to take a distant second place in terms of importance.

Over the years I have realised that love can be overrated but developing a good partnership with the person you have chosen to spend your life with, can never be. You need to learn to laugh together and not only love together.

Love can take different forms. There is the love that I felt for my mother who was the disciplinarian in our family, but I understood it because she had to raise five children, mostly with minimal support from my father, under very difficult circumstances.

Then there is the love that I felt for my three daughters from the minute I witnessed each of their births. This love, like the one that ends up in marriage, has to survive through thick and thin, through sickness and health, etc.

More recently, I have discovered another kind of love, for my grandson, who, in the space of eight short months, has stolen the hearts of everyone in our family. He has become the centre of our universe and we follow every step in his development with great interest.

It is good to love and be loved. You don’t need a special day for this and you should not have to prove it with roses, chocolates or special dinners. That does not mean you should not spoil your loved ones from time to time and not only on Valentine’s Day.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 February 2019)

Agrizzi should be held accountable for his racism

Apart from corruption - which would be obvious at a commission of inquiry into state capture - two of the remarkable themes to come from the marathon testimony of Angelo Agrizzi to the Zondo Commission this week and last week dealt with racism and the role of journalists.

There are some people who argue that, because Agrizzi is a confessed racist, his testimony should be taken with a pinch of salt or dismissed outright.

But just because he is racist, he should not forfeit his right to take the nation into his confidence about the many instances of corruption he witnessed at Bosasa, the company he served as chief operations officer not too long ago.

There are even people who argue that Agrizzi’s testimony at the Zondo Commission was driven by his hatred of black people, because he wanted to show how corrupt black political leaders were.

But what Agrizzi’s testimony showed is that it is not only black people who are corrupt. And it is not only politicians who are corrupt. As is the case in any corrupt relationship, the corruption involving Bosasa had the corrupted (in most cases politicians and public servants, black and white) and the corrupters (the mainly white bosses of Bosasa).

My feeling is that Agrizzi should be made to pay for his racism in the same way as people such as Penny Sparrow have been made to pay. He should be taken to court and held accountable. In the same way, he should account for the role he played in promoting a culture of corruption within government and the public service.

Those whom he mentioned as having benefited from the corruption, as well as those who aided and abetted the corruption, should also face criminal charges.

While it is relatively easy to deal with Agrizzi’s confessed racism, it is more difficult to deal with his claims that the company paid journalists for information and to write sympathetically about the company.

It is a pity that he claimed not to be able to remember the names of journalists who had been paid in this way.

Pinky Khoabane is not a journalist. At most, she is someone with an opinion. And Stephen Laufer stopped being a journalist many years ago. He is now a spin-doctor and has been for many years. And there are many journalists in the Eastern Cape who could go by the name of “Bongs”.

I am a strong believer in people having to account for things that they did wrong, but it is difficult for anyone to take any action with regard to the supposed journalists named by Agrizzi.

Journalists who accept money in return for writing positive stories on companies or individuals only serve to put more pressure on an industry that is already struggling with credibility issues.

But it is important to remember that, while the allegations of journalists being paid by Bosasa is probably true, it is highly likely that it is only a small group of journalists who allowed themselves to be manipulated in this manner. Most journalists I know are committed to their craft and do their work diligently despite and not because of the money they are being paid by their employers.

While Agrizzi’s testimony should not be dismissed completely because of his racism, one should also not believe every word he said. He should be subjected to proper court procedures where his motives could be exposed and the truth of his statements could be fully tested.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 2 February 2019)