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Angry protests in 'coloured' communities were about class - not race

On Wednesday I was invited by a Johannesburg-based radio station to discuss the protests in Westbury, in Johannesburg, coming soon after the protests on the Cape Flats, specifically Bonteheuwel, and the presenters wanted to know whether there were specific issues that bedevil the “coloured community” in South Africa.

I realised that the premise of the discussion would be wrong, if one only tried to look for similarities in the protests in the two communities. I am also very reluctant to talk about the “coloured community” as an expert just because some people think I look like a “coloured”.

I must admit I struggle to describe what a “coloured” looks like or even sounds like. It seems like a large group of disparate people have being lumped into one “race” group and because I am supposed to be one of them, I am expected to be able to speak expertly about them.

We are lazy like that in South Africa. Often our analysis is based on the race of the person involved and not on the person’s views or their actions.

For instance, there was huge relief among many black people when it emerged that the person accused of raping a seven-year-old in the toilet at Die Dros restaurant in Pretoria was white. Surely, the race of a rapist should not matter. However, in South Africa, it will probably take a long time before this becomes a reality.

But I digress. I decided I should participate in the radio programme instead of allowing misperceptions to continue.

My problem with conflating this week’s protests in Westbury with what happened in Bonteheuwel and elsewhere on the Cape Flats last week is that the communities are very different, even though they have some things in common.

But what they have in common, I tried to point out on the radio, has more to do with class than with race. They are both working-class communities dealing with issues prevalent in working-class communities.

Yes, some people in these communities could feel that they are being ignored by the authorities because of their race, but the reality is that they are being ignored because of their class, as is happening to working-class communities throughout South Africa where there are regular service delivery protest.

Unfortunately, our governing parties (yes, there are more than one if you look at the different spheres of government) – who think they are ruling parties – do not really care about working-class communities, unless it is close to elections and they realise that they need votes. Governing parties ensure good governance, ruling parties tend to dictate, thinking they are more powerful than the people they represent.

For instance, in Cape Town, the problems of gangsterism and drugs are as big in some of the so-called African communities, but nobody focuses on it, maybe because nobody has protested about it in the way that the people of Bonteheuwel has protested.

There is another significant difference between the protests in Bonteheuwel and Westbury. In Bonteheuwel, they were mainly peaceful, while in Westbury they have often become violent and destructive.

Part of the reason for this could be the background of the community leaders. Many of the leaders in Bonteheuwel come from the mass democratic movement in the 1980s. They understand the value of building organisation as a tool to help address serious societal problems. I am not sure that the Westbury leaders understand this. I might be mistaken, but it looks like they are more concerned with short-term gain while being prepared to sacrifice organisational discipline.

It is a pity that, almost 25 years into democracy, the people who we entrusted to run our country, our provinces and our municipalities, do not seem to care about poor communities. One of the ways of addressing it is making sure that in these communities there exists strong representative structures who can liaise with the authorities all the time, so that we prevent this phenomenon of communities only being listened to at election times.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in Weekend Argus and other Independent Media titles on Saturday 6 October 2018)

Why we are a sick society

A while ago someone posted on social media a video of a young boy giving up his seat on a packed train to an old woman. Many people commented positively on this video with one person saying that the boy “has been raised by a queen”.

I thought to myself: what is so special about this? Is this not what we are supposed to do? I admit that I grew up many years before the boy in the video, but when we grew up, we were taught to give up our seats in trains and buses if a woman, especially a pregnant or older woman, was standing. This, we were taught, was basic respect.

Could that be what is wrong with our society today? That we have forgotten the meaning and the practise of respect? Or do the problems in our society, especially with regards to lawlessness, run much deeper than this?

It is easy when respect does not exist to commit crimes against others without thinking of the possible consequences and the impact on the victims.

How does one explain the rape of a seven-year-old in the bathroom of a restaurant by a 20-year-old man who had been stalking her? How does one explain the rape of a 17-year-old in hospital shortly after she had given birth by someone posing as a doctor?

Of all the bad news that we had to deal with this week, these two stories continue to haunt me. What kind of person does something like this?

At times like this, the “bring-back-the-death-penalty” brigade become more vociferous and those of us who believe in a more human rights approach to justice find ourselves being shouted into silence.

How does one explain the many attacks on educators by learners who are supposed to be valuing the experience of sharing the educators’ wisdom?

I don’t think it is only because educators are no longer respected by learners, as an MEC said last week. I think there is a general lack of respect throughout society.

Part of it is because everyone nowadays only think of themselves and don’t consider the plight of others. Part of it could be because those in power have no empathy with those who suffer in our society. In many cases, they have forgotten where they come from.

If our default position was to respect each other, our society would be a much better place in which to live.

The other story that has been playing in my mind over and over this week has been the police action against protestors in Bonteheuwel and other parts of Cape Town. When the police see a bigger threat in people who are protesting against gangsterism than in the gangsters themselves, then we have a serious problem.

It was shocking to see video footage of Henrietta Abrahams, who fought against apartheid, being dragged by police when they arrested her. It is disgusting that this should happen almost 25 years into our democracy.

Communities on the Cape Flats continue to be terrorised by gangsters and drug dealers and, from where I sit, most of the police do not do too much about it. Maybe it has to do with the low level of respect the police have for people in these communities? Maybe the police have more respect for the gangsters and drug dealers?

As we head into elections next year, there will be many more examples of people showing disrespect to others. Politicians are notorious for dragging debate, if one can call it that, into the gutter.

But the best way to infuse respect in our society is by starting at home. Parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children about respect for others, as well as for the environment. Too many parents have abdicated their responsibility in their children’s education to teachers. Education needs to begin at home and before children reach school-going age.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 29 September 2018)

Put emphasis on Heritage Day, not the braai

On Monday, while some of us will be reflecting on our heritage and identity, others will be braaiing meat. There is nothing wrong with a braai - and I might even braai myself, depending on the weather - but it becomes a problem if you use that as your main identity marker on Heritage Day.

Braai Day is a good example of commercial interests hijacking what should be one of South Africa’s most important holidays, where we should really be able to reflect on our history and the oppression and exploitation which was based on race and class that bedevilled relations in our country for many decades and centuries.

South Africa is a beautiful country with beautiful people and part of our beauty can be found in our diverse backgrounds. This is something to celebrate and you cannot do that if you are determined to reduce your heritage to a braai.

Personally, I will reflect on the many parts of my own heritage and identity. There are so many parts of my identity and it frustrates me when lazy South Africans try to pin my identity down to what they perceive as my race.

I don’t believe in race. It is a construct used by ignorant people to justify their prejudices.

When people believe that others are of a different race, it becomes easier to discriminate against them. So-called Durban businessman and convicted fraudster Kessie Nair became the latest South African to spew racial obscenities on social media in a five-minute video in which he referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa by the k-word.

While many have attacked his utterings as being those of somebody who is mentally unstable, the sad reality is there are many others who share his views. They are just clever enough not to broadcast their views on social media.

I have never bothered about what people call me, as long as they allow me to describe myself in ways with which I am comfortable.

All of us have multiple identities, and most of us cannot always be proud of all of these. But identity is tied up with our heritage. Where we come from plays a big role in determining what we eventually become.

For instance, I believe that my religious tolerance is partly because I grew up in a family where there were as many Muslims as Christians and my commitment to gender equality has been influenced by spending most of my earlier years with my mother and two sisters and, more recently, with my wife and three daughters.

My interest in journalism was piqued at an early age by the presence of newspapers in our house. Despite being poor, my father made sure that we had newspapers every day. It was difficult not to be influenced by newspapers and to consider a career in the media.

My interest in music was rooted in the love that my parents had for music, which rubbed off on all my siblings, while my interest in sport developed at a time when playing soccer was one of the few activities we could indulge in as working-class youngsters.

My love for food was developed watching my mom cook and trying to help her sometimes, even though my help was mainly restricted to tasting before she dished up for everyone.

None of these things relate to race and this is why it infuriates me when people try to make race my main identity marker. I am many things, and I would have been all of that irrespective of the racial identity that people try to pin on me. Happy Heritage Day.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 22 September 2018)

Crime stats seen in isolation

On Tuesday night, a few hours after Police Minister Bheki Cele announced the latest crime statistics, we watched the movie, Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story, which in some ways contextualise a crime statistic from a few years ago.

In 2007, Ellen Pakkies strangled her drug addict son, Abie, to death after she and her husband suffered months of abuse at his hands. This included him stealing their possessions, including his father’s savings, breaking windows at their house and physically beating his mother.

Abie terrorised his parents and drove his mother, who had endured a lifetime of abuse, including being raped when she was four years old, over the edge. Ellen was eventually given a three-year suspended sentence and had to perform 280 hours of community service.

I chose to watch the movie at the Blue Route Mall in Tokai because it is the closest cinema to Lavender Hill, where Ellen and Odneal Pakkies still live. It is not often that one is able to watch a movie so close to where it is situated.

Crime is so much more than statistics. Behind every one of the 57 people who are murdered in South Africa every day there is a story of a human being who lived and loved, who might have been a father or a mother, or a son or a daughter. Most women who are raped are mothers and daughters with loved ones.

What Ellen shows is that crime cannot be seen in isolation. It needs to be contextualised within the brutal society that South Africa is to the majority of its people, the poor who cannot afford to escape communities such as Lavender Hill where gangsterism and drugs dominate the lives of most families.

Watching the movie, I found that I could relate to much of what was being portrayed because, like most people who grew up on the Cape Flats, I had a couple of family members who were addicted to drugs.

I remember my brothers, who both passed away at the relatively young age of 40, also displaying mood swings like Abie because of their drug addiction. In those days the drugs that decimated many communities were dagga and Mandrax, which were often mixed. Abie’s generation is being decimated by tik, which is apparently much more vicious.

My brothers would sometimes break everything in sight and often steal my mother’s stuff so that they would have money for drugs. But often they would cry like babies and ask my parents for forgiveness, promising never to steal and abuse them. Drugs affect just about everyone on the Cape Flats, especially those who do not use drugs, because they often have to deal with family members who do.

The gangsters, especially the ones who operate on the Cape Flats, know how much leverage they have in poor communities if they continue to addict young people to drugs. The problem I have with crime statistics is that the politicians, like the minister, often see them in isolation. Crime will not come down while South Africa remains the unequal society that it is. It requires more than policing to bring down crime statistics. It requires poor people to have access to decent jobs, housing and other things that are expected as normal in most societies.

It would be good for the minister and the top brass of the police force to see Ellen. It would be even better if they dedicated some funds to ensure that the movie is shown in schools and communities throughout South Africa, followed by discussions on drug abuse and gangsterism.

The shocking reality portrayed in the movie could help to dissuade young people who might be tempted to find drugs appealing.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 15 September 2018)

SA must stand up, speak out against wrongdoing

South Africa has been through so much as a country that we sometimes don’t realise when we are faced with a major tragedy or something about which we should be outraged.

We have been smacked so hard by bad news we have somehow become immune to much that is wrong in our society. 

We accept without questioning when people refer to cities in South Africa - either Johannesburg or Cape Town - as the murder capital of the world, and we do not flinch when we learn that there are more babies born with foetal alcohol syndrome in South Africa than anywhere else.

In the past week, for instance, we have had at least two incidents which, in a normal society, would have seen repercussions for senior people.

The one incident was the explosion on Monday at the Denel facility at Macassar where eight people were killed. There seems to be no rush to find out what was behind this explosion and who should take responsibility.

The people who died deserve to be more than statistics. They deserve to be remembered as people who sacrificed their lives in an incident that could have been avoided.

The same can be said for the fire at the Bank of Lisbon building, in the Johannesburg central business district, which houses a provincial government department. 

Three firefighters died in the blaze which started on Wednesday at a building the government knew was only 21% compliant in terms of safety regulations. Buildings are supposed to be at least 85% compliant.

In both cases, there should be a thorough investigation and heads should roll. In my experience of interacting with government officials over the years, I have seen that officials lower down are often prepared to take risks because they have seen people much higher up do the same.

If top officials can get away with doing illegal things and taking short cuts, what’s to stop people lower down the pecking order following suit?

One of the areas where no one seems to want to take responsibility - and to which our response as a nation has been remarkably muted - is the technical economic recession we find ourselves in. 

Some cynics say poor people are not affected by recessions, but, inevitably, poor people are the ones who suffer when the government and big business make stupid decisions.

The amazing thing about the recession is that it has taken everyone in the government by surprise. The response has been to call for a stimulus package to revive the economy.

The government has a plan to revive the economy - and they have had it for five years already. 

It is called the National Development Plan, but because of politics, no one is really paying any attention to it. If we implement half of the proposals in the NDP, South Africa would be a significantly better place to live in.

Now is the time for business to put their money where their mouth is and show how much they are committed to making a success of South Africa. 

Business are always putting pressure on government to make conditions more conducive for business, but the government’s responsibility is much broader. It has to make our society better for everyone who lives here.

South Africans need to learn how to become outraged, not only at politicians, but also when things happen that would be unacceptable in most other societies.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 8 September 2018)

Taking a leaf from Madiba’s book to end racism

There is a quote from Nelson Mandela used in the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

It is a beautiful quote and often used by some people glibly to show how good they are. But these words are easier to say than to practise.

I thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as our country once again got all heated up over racist incidents, especially the infamous white beach video.

One of the things I could not resolve is: how do we internalise these words when we are confronted by racists?

For instance, if we accept Mandela’s words - which many claim to do - does it mean that we must always forgive racists and try to rehabilitate them?

Sometimes our response to racism says as much about us as it does about the racists we are condemning. When we condemn racist behaviour, it sometimes gives us an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and say: I am not as bad as that.

But racism takes different forms. It does not have to be the way Adam Catzavelos expressed his happiness at not seeing a black person on a beach in Greece.

I have often heard white people say: “But he is not like other blacks.”

In fact, this is something that was often said of Mandela, with those who said it conveniently forgetting his history and commitment to the liberation Struggle.

Sometimes our supposed disgust for racism can hide our own racism. For instance, when a white person is accused of racism, many black people do not hesitate to label all whites as racists. The same applies when a black person is accused of racism.

South Africa is still messed-up when it comes to race relations. Many of us were so eager to embrace the “new” South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC, the release of Mandela and the elections in 1994 that we moved from a situation of unbearable and inhuman intolerance and oppression (apartheid) to ubuntu, where black people were meant to embrace white people and we would all live happily ever after.

But we never dealt with the issues that led to apartheid and colonialism. We thought that if we ignored them, they would go away.

Now we are paying the price for ignoring the pain and hurt. More than 24 years into democracy, the lives of people in poor communities have not changed and they are rightly asking when they will improve.

When they are confronted by blatant racism by people who continue to live in privilege, it is understandable that they will be angry. But the anger from those of us who are middle class needs to be redirected. We need to consistently work to uplift poor people and towards a more equitable society.

Creating opportunities for the children of domestic workers, shop assistants, petrol attendants and farm workers is what the “new” South Africa project was supposed to be about. Let’s move from condemning racism to doing something practical about improving the lives of people likely to be the victims of racism.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 1 September 2018)

Taking ownership of the good, the bad and the ugly in SA

This week, more than most, has been one of joy, pain, anger, reflection and commemoration. It has made me realise that the more things change, not only in South Africa, the more they stay the same, to quote the old cliché.

The joy was because of the Eid ul Adha celebrations and the unbridled happiness it brings to many youngsters on the Cape Flats, not all necessarily from the Muslim faith. I visited my sister in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain, on Wednesday and made the mistake of giving a young boy some money after he offered me Eid greetings.

He ran down the street, proclaiming his good fortune, and soon I was surrounded by a group of young children offering me Eid greetings in return for cash.

We used to do this when we were growing up in Hanover Park, on Eid and on Christmas. It was one way of making sure that we had some spending money in a community where pocket money was often a foreign concept. Parents had to use whatever little money they had to survive; there was no time for luxuries such as pocket money.

The pain was caused in part by some of the high-profile deaths we had in the past week and a bit, such as American singer Aretha Franklin, who inspired many people from my generation, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and, more importantly, from a South African perspective, Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe, the wife of PAC leader Robert Sobukwe.

The Sobukwes’ role in the Struggle for liberation has been completely underplayed, mainly because of the dominance of the ANC in electoral politics since 1994. But there were times in our history when the PAC and Sobukwe enjoyed more prominence and support than the ANC.

The pain was also caused in some part by the stupid - no, imbecilic - utterances by a South African who was on holiday in Greece and commented in a video about how nice the beaches were and that there were no “k*****s” in sight.

Adam Catzavelos has already lost his job in his family business, which in return has lost a few contracts because of his racism. The backlash continues, not only on social media.

But Catzevelos’s stupidity has also been the cause of much anger this week, and rightly so. What surprises me every time something like this happens is how many people act surprised. He is not the only one who has the views that he expressed publicly. There are many others who express these views at braais and family dinner tables but do not commit their views to social media. I have been in many situations where white people, and sometimes people from other races, make racist comments because they feel comfortable in the company in which they found themselves. When I have raised my objections, which is every time, I am often told that I am “too angry” or “we were just joking” or “you must leave the past behind”. Some brazen white people will argue that “because the ANC messed up, that is proof that black people cannot be entrusted with government”. They will then talk about how things were better in the “good old days”.

I have never thought about laying criminal charges against people who display racism, preferring to try and change their views through arguments, but also because our justice system is already so clogged up with important cases that are taking years to settle.

But maybe I should. Maybe the only way to deal with racism is to make racists aware that they will be prosecuted and could be jailed.

Which brings me to the reflection and commemoration. On Monday this week, it was 35 years since the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the broad coalition which played a key role inside the country in the abolition of apartheid. It was an anniversary that should have generated more discussion and debate because the UDF represented the kind of South Africa we all wanted to live in. It was truly non-racist, non-sexist and democratic. On Tuesday, it would have been the 89th birthday of Rivonia Triallist Ahmed Kathrada, who passed away last year. He was vehemently anti-racist, not only in his words but also in his actions.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Amy Biehl, the 26-year-old American post-grad student who was killed while on her way to drop three co-workers at their home in Gugulethu. She had been active in many anti-apartheid activities and organisations.

Her family’s response to her death has been heralded throughout the world because, instead of anger, they embraced the community where she was killed and started a foundation in her honour, even employing two of the young men who were convicted of her murder.

These are all related because they show what a complex society we are. We all have to take ownership of the problems we have in society and look at our own culpability in their perpetuation. If we don’t speak out against racism, we help to perpetuate racism. If we ignore the inequality in our society, it will never be eliminated. Good people, because of their silence, are often the biggest allies of bad people.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 25 August 2018)

Principal determined to uplift Manenberg school

There are certain things that one notices when one enters Manenberg via Govan Mbeki Road and Vygieskraal Road.

One is the amount of dirt that is lying next to the road, almost a metre high at times, indicating that this has been a neglected dump site in the area. The other is the many able-bodied young men, dozens at least, standing on street corners. And this was before midday.

As one turns into Thames Avenue, one begins to see Edendale Primary School in Sonderendweg: a non-descript school in prefabricated buildings that were supposed to last five years at most. But they have been standing for almost 50 years.

The school was build in 1970 and most of the buildings have been standing since then. They are in more than a need for a decent paint job; they should be demolished and replaced with permanent buildings, something that will probably not happen for another 50 years.

I was taken to the school this week by Henry Petersen, who was principal at the school until about 20 years ago and now dabbles in business, mainly in the wine industry. He wanted to show me the good work being done by the current acting principal, Faadila Ryklief, who he had appointed as a department head in 1996.

Ryklief grew up in Wye Road, Manenberg, until her family moved to Lentegeur in Mitchells Plain, but she still completed her schooling at Manenberg High School. At the same time, she lost her father and her mother became a single parent.

“This is something in these areas. There are many single parents and, quite often, the women just give up. But my mother never gave up,” said Ryklief.

Ryklief started teaching at Edendale Primary School in 1988. She was appointed as acting principal about three years ago and have been told by the education authorities that her position will become permanent from October 1.

Edendale Primary was in the news last year for the wrong reasons. Chanelle McCrawl, 10, a Grade 4 learner at the school, was found murdered in October, a day after she was declared missing.

Her bludgeoned body was discovered in a field not far from the school. Her uncle and a neighbour have been charged with raping and murdering her. The case still has to go to trial.

“Last year was difficult, especially for the Grade 4 class. We lost Chanelle, but another of her classmates drowned in December while another one had a heart operation,” said Ryklief.

The problems of Manenberg inevitably find their way into the school. “We are a no-fee school and we try to supplement our income through fund-raising activities, but we can only have small fundraising activities on Sassa day (when beneficiaries get their social grants). Quite often, we have to cancel planned activities when the gangsters start shooting.”

One of the things that Ryklief has changed is not allowing parents to take children from school when gang violence breaks out. This used to be common practise.

“As soon as the shooting starts, parents come and fetch their children, even though the children are probably safer at school. One parent would come and take all the children from their street. We now tell parents that they are welcome to wait at school until the end of the school day when they can take their children,” she said.

Even sports activities are affected by the gangsters’ shenanigans.

“We don’t have a soccer field, so the children have to play on a nearby field, but they can only go when the gangsters are not fighting.”

Meanwhile, many of the facilities at the school are run-down. The Grade R play area has been closed because some of the equipment has become unsafe leaving the children to make up games in the general play area. The cricket nets are unusable and the cricket wicket is overgrown.

The school has 27 computers in a small lab, but six of the screens and five of the hard drives are not working. The average class has 42 learners, so most of the learners end up sharing computers during lessons.

Over the years, for a variety of reasons, the school’s population has shrunk, but Ryklief has been steadily increasing the numbers in the past three years.

“There was a time when we had about 700 learners, but this decreased significantly in the past 10 years. Three years ago we had 350 learners, now we have just over 440. Our plans are to introduce English Grade R classes, but this needs the approval of the education department,” said Ryklief.

Introducing English classes at the Afrikaans-medium school could also mean that the school could attract learners from Gugulethu, which is over the railway line.

On the face of it, Edendale is just another school trying to survive in the townships. But Ryklief is determined to make sure that the school attracts good teachers and improves its facilities in a community where most people have nothing.

“Sometimes township schools attract only teachers who are not committed in the way that we would want them to be. But I am hoping to attract good teachers.”

In many ways, the odds are stacked against her, but one cannot help but admire her determination to make a difference in an environment where most people do not care. For instance, if the education authorities cared, they would have replaced the pre-fab buildings years ago.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 18 August 2018)

Chapter of journalism vanished in the race for a new SA

There was plenty of reflection and nostalgia on Tuesday night at the launch of a book on two newspapers that opposed apartheid in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

The book, Rhetorics of Resistance: Opposition Journalism in Apartheid South Africa, written by Bryan Trabold, an associate professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts, focuses on the Weekly Mail and the New Nation.

Trabold spent more than two years in South Africa in the late 1990s and that is when he conducted most of the interviews for the book, which has had a limited release in South Africa.

At the launch at Clarkes Book Store in Long Street, Trabold explained that the book started off as a dissertation towards his doctorate. He said it took much longer than anticipated for the book to be published.

He had interviewed me in 1999, when I was editor of the Cape Times, and invited me and another former Independent Newspapers editor, Shaun Johnson (now CEO of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation) to share some of our memories at the launch.

Johnson had worked at the Weekly Mail, the forerunner to the Mail & Guardian, and I worked at the New Nation.

In attendance at the launch were several people who had worked at either of the two papers, including another former Cape Times editor, Tyrone August, who had also worked at the New Nation. August was based at head office in Johannesburg while I ran the Cape Town office. Most of the people, however, came from the Weekly Mail side because the New Nation was never strong in the Western Cape, except in what is still known as the townships.

When Trabold emailed me a few weeks ago and asked me to participate in the launch, I was apprehensive because the period he reflected on was a long time ago and I, like everyone else, had moved on since then.

But his request, which I initially refused, got me thinking, not only about what happened in the bad old days of apartheid, but what is happening in the media space today.

Johnson shared a lot of humorous anecdotes from his days at the Weekly Mail, but also pointed out that the journalists who worked there were often scared because of the tactics of the apartheid police.

Things were slightly different at the New Nation, where we might not have shared as much humour, but we also did not feel as much fear. We were driven by something that was much bigger than us.

Apartheid had been declared a crime against humanity by the UN and we were in the forefront of the opposition to it.

We felt that, if we had to make sacrifices, it would be in line with our commitment to the struggle. We did not see a distinction between the struggle for human rights and the struggle for media freedom.

There were other differences between the two newspapers. The Weekly Mail had a mainly white readership, while the New Nation had a mainly black readership.

The Weekly Mail journalists all had bylines, while the New Nation staff wrote anonymously. Part of the reason for this was security, to protect journalists from scrutiny by the security police, while part of it was because of the collective nature of our project.

When one looks at the freedom the media enjoy in South Africa today, it is difficult to imagine the difficult conditions under which we operated in the 1980s.

Many anti-apartheid journalists, including yours truly, ended up in detention, and journalists were often beaten up by police along with protesters on who they were reporting.

Many of the anti-apartheid newspapers, including the New Nation and Weekly Mail, were closed for different periods by the apartheid censors.

The editor of the New Nation, the inspirational Zwelakhe Sisulu, spent more than two years in detention.

The apartheid authorities thought that, by banning and detaining us, they would silence us, but they soon realised that it would not work.

Paging through the book, I thought back to all the other smaller newspapers that existed in the 1980s and who played as important a role. These included newspapers such as Grassroots, Saamstaan and Vrye Weekblad.

I realise that we are failing those who sacrificed so much for our freedom by letting the history of these papers die without any of it being recorded. The fact that an American had to write the history of two of our most important anti-apartheid newspapers is an indictment on local writers and researchers who shun away from these subjects.

Trabold quoted me in the book as saying that the main reason we were involved in alternative media was because the mainstream media were not doing their work properly and did not reflect society properly.

This got me thinking about the media today. Are we doing our work properly now that we do not have all the inconveniences that we suffered during apartheid? Are we reflecting society properly? Our mission in the 1980s was to provide a voice for the voiceless.

Have the media done that in democratic South Africa? Or have we just continued to exclude the people who were excluded under apartheid?

There are no easy answers to these questions but all journalists, especially the young ones who hold the future of the media industry in their hands, should think about the role we are expected to play as those who report on our society. Journalism has always been more than a job to me.

It has always been about serving people whose voices would not be heard otherwise. I hope that the young journalists of today feel the same.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 11 August 2018)

#TotalShutDown: No abusive man’s worth hanging onto, or defending

Amina was young and beautiful, and a mother of four. She was doing well in her job and had recently being promoted to a management position in the factory where she started out at the bottom, more than 10 years ago. Her future was looking bright except for one thing: her abusive husband.

Her husband, Amien, was not much older than her, unable to hold down a job and had a serious addiction to a range of drugs. It was not unusual for him to start a new job, impress everyone with his work ethic, only to stay away after two or three weeks because he got bored or he succumbed to a drug binge.

Amina would sometimes come home to discover she no longer had a television set or a fridge, which had been pawned so that Amien could buy drugs. She then suffered the indignity of finding out where he sold her stuff and having to buy it back.

If she complained too much, he would beat her up. But in the community where they lived, Amien was not seen as a bad person because he was seen as a good Muslim who prayed five times a day and fasted religiously every year.

No one in Amina’s family said anything about their relationship, with everyone being happy she was married to a good Muslim. She stayed with him until she died at a reasonably young age. It is not known whether her death was related to the abuse she suffered.

Roberta was a professional woman who held down a highly-paid executive job in Cape Town. She met Mr Right who was from Durban and relocated to be with him. Fortunately for her, she managed to find an equally well-paid job in Durban.

But soon she realised that Mr Right was not perfect. He had a tendency of losing his temper quickly, not hesitating to take it out on her. She often had to hide bruises on her face and body caused by heavy beatings.

She was hesitant to tell her friends about what was happening in her relationship because she was now living in a strange city and she depended on Mr Right to help her acclimatise to a foreign environment.

She also knew all her friends, most of whom were in Cape Town, would tell her to leave him immediately, which she was not prepared to do.

She hoped that things would change, that he would bring his temper under control and that the beatings would stop.

The beatings never stopped and a year later she packed her bags and left him. She did not want to return to Cape Town - that would almost be an acknowledgement that the entire relationship was a failure - so she relocated to Joburg to start a new life on her own.

I thought of both women this week as I watched thousands of women marching to the centres of power in Pretoria and Cape Town to protest against abuse. While I did not use their real names, they were real women who were special to me.

When I heard about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their partners, my immediate advice was: “Get out. Leave him. No abusive man is worth hanging onto.”

These are just two examples of women’s abuse that I have encountered over the years. There are many more examples that I can list, including the many women on the Cape Flats who always have black eyes after they “walked into a door”.

What I learnt from both experiences is that the abuse of women will never stop unless the abusers have no alternative but to stop.

Abusers will continue as long as they know they will get away without facing any consequences or that the consequences will not match their crimes.

The abusers will also continue as long as they can convince their victims to remain silent and they enjoy the protection of people in their communities.

The only way to stop abuse is to highlight it at every possible opportunity. Survivors of abuse need to know that they can come forward and will be protected. Unfortunately, our justice does not inspire confidence, especially for victims.

Communities need to isolate, shame and report the perpetrators of abuse.

The abuse of women and children should not be seen as a problem for women and children. Men should play an active part in campaigning against it and ending it. If men do not speak up against the abuse of women and children, it is almost as if they are also guilty of abuse.

I salute the women who marched this week. I hope that soon we will see men not only marching but also organising against abuse.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 4 August 2018)

Music and sport help keep Mandela’s legacy alive

Like many other South Africans and people from around the world, I got caught up in the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s centenary last week.

There were more than enough events to attend, all dedicated to preserving the memory and legacy of South Africa’s greatest statesman.

This situation will probably continue for a while as many people and organisations want to honour Madiba in their own way.

The City of Cape Town, for instance, unveiled a statue of Madiba at the City Hall this week, to mark the spot where he made his first speech after his release from Victor Verster Prison.

My highlights of last week were not restricted to attending the Nelson Mandela lecture delivered by former US president Barack Obama - even though it was special.

Instead, my best event last week had nothing to do with Madiba. On the other hand, it probably had everything to do with Madiba.

It was a show at Artscape last Friday night, organised by a relatively new body called the Fostering Foundation.

The organisation was founded by the legendary singer Sophia Foster and she has roped in actor Jody Abrahams, musician Celeste Williams and a whole lot of others who are working behind the scenes.

Their simple mission is “the transfer of skills to and development of the talented youth of the Western Cape”.

They have been quietly working with young people from disadvantaged communities without anyone really noticing.

The show took the form of the old-fashioned variety shows popular on the Cape Flats in my growing up years. The young people who have been exposed to the foundation sang and danced their way through two 45-minute sets tightly directed by Foster and Abrahams, with musical direction by Williams.

Foster played a supportive role, singing just one song on her own and another with some of the young singers, allowing her prodigies to shine. And shine they did, resulting in a standing ovation at the end of the show.

The youngest performer was 13-year-old Hiram Hartsog of Paarl, who started singing in the church choir when he was 5 years old. Others include 18-year-old Mpho Ngexe from Khayelitsha who has been singing from the age of 7, 14-year-old Angel Bowman from Table View, who wants to become a singer and international model, Yamkela Kasana, 19, from Langa, who is studying at CPUT, but wants to become a professional singer, and 20-year-old Mogamat George from Bo-Kaap, who grew up in a family of musicians.

In many ways, their stories reflect the difficulties that young people on the Cape Flats face on a daily basis, even though we are supposed to be celebrating 24 years of freedom.

Foster, in a video played at the event, talked about some of the performers not being able to attend rehearsals because of shootings in their neighbourhoods, resulting in people being trapped in their houses.

Young dancer Janica Mulder, 15, from Steenberg, recounted the sad story of having to identify the body of her best friend who had been brutalised and murdered.

But, Foster said, when the music started, it was almost like the young people would forget all their problems and immerse themselves in another world.

It is through work like this that Mandela’s legacy will live on. The organisers did not deliberately link their event to Madiba, but they did not have to. Their work spoke for itself.

We have a tendency in South Africa to think very simplistically about the country’s needs. We tend to think that, for us to succeed as a nation, we need to do only the so-called important things, such as creating jobs and providing proper housing for all.

But while it is important to sort out the bigger problems in society, we cannot underestimate the power of issues that are considered “soft”, such as sports and arts and culture.

In poor communities, music and sport provide an alternative to the general misery of life. But they can also provide a way out of poverty for people who are talented.

I was one of the young people who benefited from music.

As a teenager in Hanover Park, one of the main reasons why I never ended up in a gang was because I played guitar and I would often sit on the street corner with the local gangsters, strumming my guitar while they sang along.

They never put pressure on me to join the gang, realising that I had some talent (even though it was limited, in my opinion).

We need more projects in schools, and poor communities especially, that use sport and music to nurture talent and provide hope to young people.

We have seen the unifying power of both. No one will be able to forget the sight of Madiba wearing Francois Pienaar’s No 6 Springbok rugby jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Madiba also used music very effectively to convey his message. Here, one can think of the huge 46664 concerts featuring many famous performers.

There are many others who, like the Fostering Foundation, are quietly making a difference in communities. They are the real heroes who are keeping Madiba’s legacy alive.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 28 July 2018)

We should aspire to live as Mandela did every day

By the time you read this, most politicians, business leaders and many others in corporate South Africa would have ticked off on their to-do list: do good for Mandela Day.

Unfortunately, and as sad as it is to admit, this is what has happened to the legacy of one of the greatest South Africans who have lived. It has been reduced, in many cases, to 67 minutes one day a year when people with money and influence break from their normal routine to help those who are less fortunate.

They do this, not in privacy and not anonymously, but with cameras clicking and recording as if they did good without anyone seeing it on TV, in the newspapers or on social media, it would not count.

Their public relations people have been working overtime this week to show us how their principals have shown compassion for those who have less than them, for 67 minutes, give or take a few minutes more or less. But what happened before? What happens afterwards?

This year, of course, most people have done slightly more than the “required” 67 minutes because there have been many activities celebrating what would have been Madiba’s 100th birthday.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to people doing good and I am glad that many poor people have benefited from the benevolence shown this week.

I am not knocking those who quietly and out of the spotlight do good, not only on Mandela Day, but throughout the year.

I am trying to promote the willingness to do good continuously and out of the glare of the media because this is what Madiba stood for.

Doing good must become part of our DNA. We should not have to be reminded on special days that we should do something for those in need and we should not do it only if we are going to be acknowledged for doing good.

Doing good should be about more than a picture moment or a hashtag. Madiba never wanted acknowledgement. He was committed to changing South Africa for the better in line with the vision of the ANC, of which he was a humble servant. He realised it was important for South Africa’s future to create an environment in which all of its people would be able to prosper.

The unfortunate thing is some people have interpreted this to mean that only some people are supposed to prosper in South Africa, as has happened since we became a democracy, which is not much different from to what happened before.

A famous statement by a Struggle hero comes to mind here: “We never struggled to be poor.” It is true that we never struggled to be poor, but we also did not struggle to be stinking rich. We struggled to uplift the majority of people in this country, who happen to be poor. More than 24 years into democracy, most of these people have remained poor and still live in apartheid-created townships without access to decent living conditions.

One of Madiba’s traits was his humility. He never thought he was special and he never wanted to be treated in a special way. As many people reflected on their interactions with him this week, the one story that stood out was how he would be invited for dinner and always insisted that everyone in his party should be fed. Often people would only think about the VIP they invited and forget that there are other people in his party whose needs also need to be considered.

I always struggle to answer when people ask me what I did on Mandela Day because living Mandela’s values has never been about an event for me. It has always been about embracing and internalising the many lessons that we can learn from his life. I would like to think every day is a Mandela Day.

It always makes me uncomfortable to think about the woman abuser who decides not to beat up his wife for 67 minutes on Mandela Day; the corrupt politician who decides not to accept bribes during that time; the criminal who decides in honour of Madiba not to rob anyone on this special day or the employer who lets his domestic worker eat at the same table as his family on Mandela Day when she has to eat in a back room or outside, all by herself, on other days.

We should all try to live according to Madiba’s values all the time but it is not easy. Madiba was someone special and most of us are not. We struggle to do what came naturally to him.

We need to embrace all his values, not only some of them and need to embrace them all the time, not just some of the time and definitely not only for 67 minutes one day a year.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 21 July 2018)

Stay calm and endure, even when everything is against you

Sport and resilience have always gone together. It is almost as if one expects the underdogs to defy the odds when they are faced with formidable foes.

This week was no different, with at least three stories of resilience involving sport.

The first two are obvious: Kevin Anderson’s comeback victory against defending champion, Roger Federer to take him into the semi-finals at Wimbledon; and Croatia’s come-from-behind victory over England in the Fifa World Cup semi-final.

If both Anderson and Croatia did nothing else in their sporting careers, they would have done more than many others before them in their home countries.

Anderson was two sets to love down to Federer, who has been playing some of the most sublime tennis. Despite this loss, Federer will be considered the greatest tennis player of all time. Tennis statisticians have been trying to find information on whether anyone has ever come back in such a dramatic fashion against Federer, at his favourite venue, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Croatia went a goal down to England early in their game and they managed to take the game into extra time by scoring late in the second half. They scored again in extra time to secure a well-deserved and hard-fought 2-1 victory. In the process, the underdogs beat the favoured England team, who many had expected to face France in the final tomorrow.

Croatia’s Luka Modric. Photo:Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

But the greatest story of sporting endurance this week took place inside the flooded Tham Luang cave in mountainous northern Thailand where 12 young soccer players between 11 and 16 years old and their coach had been trapped for more than two weeks.

They were rescued in a daring mission which cost the life of at least one person who tried to help save them. Thai Navy Seal, Major General Saman Gunan, died bringing in oxygen tanks at the start of the rescue effort.

People from many countries were involved in the rescue attempts, including England, Australia, China, Japan, Sweden, Myanmar, Laos and the US, in a way showing that we can achieve more through international co-operation than confrontation.

The boys, part of a soccer team, known as the Wild Boars, survived in the flooded cave with limited supplies and inspired by their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Chantawong. The world rejoiced when the news broke that all the boys had been saved.

Unlike at Wimbledon and the World Cup, where players have to show perseverance, everyone involved in the Thai cave rescue had to display determination which went way beyond the norm.

One of the major lessons to learn from all three examples is the need to remain calm when everything appears to be working against you.

Anderson would have needed this at two sets down, Croatia would have needed this at a goal down and the young Thai boys would have needed this when more than a week had gone by without them being discovered.

Often, when one panics in a crisis, it only serves to make things worse. But the biggest lesson is that teamwork is better than individualism.

The Croatia team stuck to their game plan, despite going behind, without any individual players trying to do things on their own. And even though tennis is an individual sport, Anderson would have been mindful of the plan he had devised with his support team.

The Thai youngsters survived by sharing limited resources and caring for each other under the supervision of their coach, who has been hailed as a hero for keeping the group focused.

It is good if we can learn lessons from stories of sporting endurance and, in the case of the Thai boys, human endurance. It is easy to give up when things start going wrong, but it often requires something beyond normal to keep up hope.

Imagine if Anderson had given up after two sets and accepted that he was going to lose to one of the greatest players in the world.

Imagine if Croatia had accepted that they would not be able to recover from being a goal down.

Imagine if everyone involved in the Thai cave rescue had decided that the mission was too difficult, and accepted that the boys could not be saved.

A friend of mine always says that everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not the end. I suppose this is the major lesson to take from this week’s stories of sporting and non-sporting endurance.

As long as we don’t give up hope, we can always overcome.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 14 July 2018)

Shenanigans of owners nullified journalists’ work

Media is a tough industry. Technology changes on a regular basis and most media houses struggle to keep up, trying to find ways to remain profitable and relevant.
When one is faced with a non-growing (some would say shrinking) economy like ours, it is almost inevitable that one of the areas of expenditure where most companies cut down first is on their media spend.

But this is only part of the story. The history of our media has always been inextricably linked to the history of South Africa.

We have seen how some supposedly-liberal newspapers claimed to have opposed apartheid while, at the same time, employing only white reporters.

On the occasion when these newspapers did employ a token black (African, coloured or Indian), they often did not allow them to use the whites-only staff canteen or the whites-only toilets.

We have seen how some newspapers, at least one of which still exists today, was started as a front by the apartheid government, with taxpayers’ money, in an attempt to promote Nationalist Party views and values to the untapped, in their opinion, white English-speaking market.

We have seen how, in October 1977, the government cracked down mainly on black journalists and media aimed at black people as they tried to stifle the wave of resistance after Soweto 1976.

I thought about the history of our media a lot this week as I reflected on the closing of a relatively small paper called Afro Voice which I had edited for a short while six years ago when it was called The New Age.

The staff of the paper were apparently called in by the owner last Thursday and told that the paper was stopping and that they should go home. They would be paid until the end of July. It was a callous way to bring an end to a newspaper that had been troubled since even before its birth.

One can read something into the name of Afro Voice and its sister television station, Afro World View. It talks about promoting a perspective of Africa, but it is not known whether it refers to the continent or the part of the South African population sometimes referred to as Africans. The distinction is significant, one promoting ethnicity, one promoting continental excellence and unity.

The New Age was a bit more interesting. New Age was the name of a famous - at least in liberation circles - newspaper edited by, among others, Ruth First, the famous Struggle hero who was killed in a letter bomb explosion.

The version of The New Age born in 2010 was supposed to carry on the tradition of the paper of the 1950s, which was vehemently in favour of social change.

But, of course, there were differences. One of the differences is that the original New Age, which was born after the banning of another anti-establishment paper called The Guardian, was not owned by private Indian business people trying to make a quick buck in South Africa.

The owners of the original New Age were in it for social change and fought banning and harassment. The owners of The New Age fought for corporate ad spend but largely depended on government advertising and support.

It was a recipe that would not meet with success in the end, because governments change and you can’t depend on relationships with people in government to keep your business alive.

You have to build a competitive business with, in the case of media, compelling and relevant content that will attract readers who will in turn attract advertisers. People must want to advertise with you, whether they like your paper or not, because they know that you have the numbers.

There were some raised eyebrows in the industry when I and many others joined The New Age more than seven years ago. But we went in genuinely wanting to promote a diversity of voices in the media space, realising that, sometimes editors and other journalists have to produce good media despite our owners and not because of them.

We tried our best and sometimes we succeeded in making the rest of the industry sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the shenanigans of the owners nullified everything we tried to do as journalists at The New Age.

I worked with some of the best journalists in the industry at The New Age. All of them were just trying to earn a living in a competitive space, and all of them were as committed to the things to which journalists are supposed to be committed, such as wanting to expose corruption among those with power and wanting to provide a voice for those who didn’t normally have a voice in media that mostly promoted the elites in society.

There has been a lot of gloating on social media among people who, rightly or wrongly, did not like The New Age or Afro Voice, but I can never gloat when any media outlet gets shut down in South Africa.

South Africa needs as many diverse voices as possible. Shutting down outlets which promotes views that we don’t like, or owners that we don’t like, will not make those views go away.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 7 July 2018)

For many residents, Cape Town's ugly side is all they know

Cape Town is a beautiful city. Some of its loyal residents would like to believe it is one of the most beautiful cities, if not the most beautiful city, in the world.

It is difficult to argue against this contention. Where else in the world do you find such natural beauty?

A table-like mountain almost in the middle of the city, surrounded by leafy, green suburbs. Breathtaking beaches; and within minutes you have access to stunning farms where, among others, wine is produced in huge quantities.

But the beauty of the city is something not shared by most Capetonians.

As one flies into Cape Town, one first sees the mountains and then the sea, but as one approaches the airport, one sees hundreds, if not thousands of shacks, built almost on top of each other.

I have often looked at fellow passengers when we approach Cape Town on a flight, to try and read their minds. What are they thinking when they see the shacks? Were they warned about it in the tourist brochures?

Will they just shift it to the back of their mind and pretend they did not see it? Or will they be aware of the stark inequality in this beautiful city as they visit one beautiful tourist site after the other?

When we grew up on the Cape Flats, we never knew about the beauty of Cape Town. All we saw was the small council houses and the shacks in between.

We saw the poverty which affected almost every household, where young people struggled to find work, despite having matriculated, and found themselves standing on street corners whiling away the hours and days.

I realised then how easy it was to become a gangster within an environment such as this. When you feel alienated by society, as many of these young people do, then it is not difficult to find acceptance within a family-like structure such as a gang.

Gangs made many young people feel at home. It gave them a sense of belonging even though, in their hearts, they knew they were often engaging in illegal activities.

In an environment like this, it becomes an easy breeding ground for all kinds of social ills, such as drug abuse, violence against women and children, murder, robbery and other crimes.

Here’s my problem. This was the situation almost 50 years ago when I was growing up on the Cape Flats. The situation now is just as bad, if not more intense.

Every time I read another story about a young girl being abused or murdered, with her body dropped on an open field near her family home or buried in a shallow grave, I think about the hundreds of girls who have died in a similar way over the years, with not much of a change in the social conditions which led to this killing.

Yes, we have a little bit of an outcry, but then we continue with our lives and leave the families of the victims to deal with their grief. At some point, they also move on, realising their grief will not bring back their loved ones.

Every time I read about service delivery protests, which often turn violent, I think: why?

Surely, 24 years and some change into our democracy, our local government should have become a bit more in-tune with the needs of our citizens? Didn’t we vote for them? Are they not supposed to carry out our mandate?

Every time I hear about the disruption and non-arrival of public transport, especially the trains, I can’t believe there has never been an urgency to sort out this mess.

The population of Cape Town continues to grow, but our road network and public transport system has not kept up. Those of us who are lucky enough to have cars will rather brave the four-hour peak hour (from 3pm to 7pm) from the city centre than risk our lives on the ineffective public transport system.

All of this speaks of a disregard for human beings, especially the poor people who form the majority in this city.

The people who only see the ugly side of the city and who never get to enjoy the mountain, the sea and the Winelands.

Okay, they might get to enjoy the beaches one day a year but, other than that, their lives do not reflect the beauty of the city.

It is probably unrealistic to think that Cape Town will ever become this utopia where everyone will be able to enjoy its beauty, but we can do better than we are doing. We cannot afford to exclude the majority from enjoying its beauty.

In the apartheid days, when most beaches were reserved for white people, many of us used the slogan “All God’s beaches for all God’s children”. Maybe we should revise that slogan: “All of Cape Town for all of its children”.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 30 June 2018)

Beautiful aspect of soccer is it brings people together

Like billions of people around the world, I have been engrossed by the soccer fields in Russia, where the top soccer nations are vying to win Fifa’s most coveted prize, one that only comes every four years.

I can’t believe that it is eight years already since we had the privilege of hosting the World Cup, when many of us were able to watch the superstars of the game in action on our doorsteps.

This time, even though we are thousands of kilometres away from the action, the beauty of modern technology means that we can still live, breathe and almost eat the soccer in our living rooms, and in full HD if we are lucky.

The quality of the soccer has not disappointed, with some big nations being upset by smaller nations, such as Iceland holding Argentina to a draw. And Senegal, like so often in the past, had to restore African pride when they beat Poland 2-1 in a game where the young and fast Senegalese exposed the older and more experienced, but slower, Polish players.

Before the Senegal game, all the African countries participating in the World Cup had lost their games and some even lost their second games afterwards, such as Egypt and Morocco, which means that they will have to return home after the group stages.

Judging by the games we have seen so far, it is clear why soccer is universally known as the beautiful game.

It is a pity that South Africans do not treat the game with the same kind of respect like they do in many other parts of the world where people are generally in love with soccer.

If we had respect for soccer, we would never allow our national team to be hijacked by a group of players who appear to be more concerned about their hairstyles, colourful soccer boots and huge egos and salaries than they are about representing their country with pride.

We have become so desperate in South Africa that we even recently celebrated winning the Plate final in the Cosafa Cup, one of the smallest and most irrelevant soccer competitions on the continent.

A Plate final, for those who do not know, is basically the losers’ final. This round of games is made up of the teams who lost out in the first rounds so, instead of sending them home, they are allowed to play against the other losers.

There is nothing to celebrate about winning a Plate final.

But so desperate have we become to celebrate any success in soccer, that we hailed Bafana’s success at Cosafa, even though they effectively went out in the first round and played the remainder of their games in a consolation tournament.

It is good for any nation to have success in sport, because of what it does to the psyche of that nation and the way it can inspire ordinary people to achieve more in life. But it is even more important to have success in soccer because of its global appeal. Soccer dwarves all other sporting codes, by far.

While rugby and cricket, the other big games in South Africa, are played in only a few countries, soccer is played in most countries in the world. This is why the World Cup is the biggest event in the world. Soccer is also one of the cheapest and easiest games to play at a recreational level. You do not need much more than a ball, and not even a soccer ball, to start.

Admittedly, Bafana Bafana have not made us proud in recent years, but this is no reason for us to not continue to try to fix the national team and grow the footprint of soccer beyond the people it is reaching at the moment.

I have always supported plans to make soccer compulsory in all our schools, like rugby is compulsory in many schools, especially those who were historically Model C. More than most other sports, soccer has the ability to create realistic changes in the lives of people who might have grown up impoverished.

But, for me, the most beautiful thing about soccer is its ability to bring people together despite their backgrounds, as can be seen by the beautiful scenes at the World Cup that we have been witnessing on our TV screens every night.

Those with power and influence need to find a way for Bafana Bafana to be restored to its former glory. A fit and winning Bafana can be an inspiration to millions of young people from poor backgrounds that they can also achieve greatness in life.

Soccer can be inspirational, and we don’t have to wait for the World Cup to see its impact.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 23 June 2018)

Lessons for youth from sacrifices and celebrations

It is in many ways appropriate that Youth Day (Saturday) and Father’s Day (Sunday) fall on the same weekend. If one adds Eid (Friday), then there are all kinds of symbolism that is difficult to ignore.

Youth Day has morphed from a commemoration of the events in Soweto on 16 June 1976, when police shot and killed students who were protesting against being taught in Afrikaans, to a day when one focuses on all the issues facing young people, such as unemployment, gangsterism, drugs, teenage pregnancies, etc.

Father’s Day, of course, is a commercial invention aimed at getting consumers to show appreciation for their fathers by buying gifts and entertaining them.

Eid is a celebration of life after a month of fasting, called Ramadan, when Muslims throughout the world abstain, at least during daylight hours, from food, drink and other perceived worldly pleasures. It is an opportunity to reflect on what is important in life and how one can live without some important things.

Because of the differences between the Muslim (Hijri) calendar and the Gregorian calendar that we follow, Eid falls on different days each year, so it is not likely that one will have this confluence of events again for many years.

But it is important to focus on the sacrifices inherent in Ramadan and Youth Day and the excesses that are promoted for something like Father’s Day. Many young men are also fathers and Father’s Day should probably focus more on how to get more young men to take responsibility for being fathers.

When I grew up on the Cape Flats, it was not unusual to hear people, men and women, say that it is easier to have boys because they can just walk away after making girls pregnant. It is not so easy for girls who must live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.

This outdated thinking is probably behind a lot of the lack of accountability by young men who refused to accept paternal responsibility or responsibility to other actions which can only be perpetrated by men.

Thrown into this mix, it is entirely appropriate that a new show, called #JustMen, started at the Baxter this week and its aim is to get men to take a stand against violence against women and children.

#JustMen is an attempt to get men to take ownership of a problem which, as the organisers point out, is essentially a man’s problem. This follows the worldwide #MeToo campaign which saw women throughout the world raising their voices about abuse by men.

The play is produced by Heinrich Reisenhofer, who produced several award-winning productions, and feature a cast of prominent male stars. The Baxter hopes that they will be able to attract a wide range of men to this show, including captains of industry and people with influence in various sectors of society.

“The need to start open discussions, take ownership and outlaw this horrific scourge has become urgent. Become part of the movement to help transform our society into a safer and healthier environment,” said Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot.

Reisenhofer added: “This is a very personal project for me about bringing healing and transformation into the theatre space and engaging a brave and vulnerable conversation about men taking responsibility, not just for the men we want to be, but the kind of world we want to be part of.”

What I love about theatre is its ability to turn a microscope on society and to interrogate, often in detail, issues that we often try to ignore. My biggest problem is that, often, this starts and ends in the theatre and has no impact beyond the few minds who might have been exposed to a particular production.

For something like #JustMen to be really effective, it will have to find a home and resonance beyond formal theatre. It is something that needs to travel to schools and universities throughout the country and it needs to be backed up by an incredible publicity campaign, especially in social media. It is one thing to create a hashtag. It is another thing to make it trend.

Something that has been baffling me for years is the fact that men do not form the majority of people in the world, but they cause the majority of problems and they occupy the majority of leadership positions, whether this be in politics or business or other sectors such as sport.

As we reflect on Eid, Youth Day and Father’s Day this weekend, we should also reflect on what we can do as individuals to change the world into a better and safer place for all, especially girls and women. If we succeed in this, the sacrifices that many have made in the past will not have been in vain.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 June 2018)

Don't allow history to be rewritten by opportunists

There’s a phrase that I was introduced to years ago by Zane Ibrahim, the late founder of Bush Radio and one of the people I admired greatly in the media industry: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

I later learnt that this was a quote from the great Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe.

I thought about this phrase a lot this week as I reflected on the possible renaming of Cape Town International Airport and was shocked at the blatant racism displayed in Parliament by the EFF’s deputy president, Floyd Shivambu.

It was interesting to see how history has been perverted by many who claim that their chosen name should be attributed to the airport in the mother city. Like I said previously, I do not really have preferences, and don’t even know whether it is necessary to go through this process, but if it helps people to understand history – especially struggle history – a bit better, than it might have been worthwhile.

An airport is a place frequented mainly by rich and middle-class people – in South Africa that would translate into white – so I am not surprised by the many calls by supposed airport users for the name to remain unchanged.

But even Cape Town is not a neutral name, because it is not the original name of the city. It is not the name given to the city by the people who lived here originally.

It is a pity that their history has been subverted over the years by the people who colonised them and those that came afterwards.

Whatever the outcome of the (re)naming process, it should help us to reflect on the history of our city and the people who played a prominent part in liberating it and this country.

One of the people who played a role in our liberation is Ismail Momoniat, a senior member of the National Treasury staff who came under fire this week by Shivambu for apparently being an “Indian” who “undermined the African leadership in the department”.

Shivambu and others who purport to be in political leadership nowadays need to look back on our history and they will see that many people, irrespective of race, played important roles in the struggle for liberation. We prided ourselves on our commitment to non-racism, as a counter to the racism on which apartheid was based.

It’s not that Momoniat’s struggle credentials should matter in relation to the important work that he is doing in the Treasury. He should be judged purely on whether he is doing a capable job, which everyone, except Shivambu, agrees he is doing.

His race should also not matter. When politicians so blatantly use race in their political arguments, we are on a slippery slope and they should be prepared to accept responsibility for whatever results from their actions.

But Shivambu is not the only one who is guilty of rewriting history. The ANC has been doing it for years, if not decades.

Next Saturday, 16 June, we celebrate Youth Day which only became a public holiday after our country became a democracy. Before that, we commemorated 16 and 17 June as Soweto Day, because people were killed on both days in 1976 when students in Soweto protested against being taught in Afrikaans.

Despite it not being a public holiday, people in schools and townships throughout the country commemorated these two days by staying at home.

The ANC, by renaming it Youth Day, could be accused of trying to whitewash the involvement of the Black Consciousness Movement, who were very active in South Africa in 1976, at a time when the ANC and PAC were banned.

The ANC has also tried to erase the PAC’s contribution from history with relation to 21 March, now known as Human Rights Day, but known throughout the struggle years as Sharpeville Day, to commemorate the deaths of people who were protesting against the pass laws in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, and Langa in Cape Town in 1960.

The ant-pass protests were led by the PAC, who at that point appeared to have more support than the ANC, with the ANC jumping on the anti-pass protest bandwagon at a very late stage.

The DA, of course, has been busy rewriting history for a while now, effectively turning the late Nelson Mandela into one of their members.

The one way to preserve history is to write about it and, even though, most writers are only able to reflect a particular view of history, it is important to reflect and remember those views.

I agree with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that history should become a compulsory subject at school. History helps us understand where we come from and this is important if we want to know where we are going. Let us all become lions and show that there is an alternative to the hunter’s history.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 June 2018)

Airport renaming an opportunity to honour Cape Town's heroes

I am not a supporter of changing the name of Cape Town International Airport, but I think it is an important discussion for us to have.

I have always believed in a balance between retaining history and creating new things which could be memorialised by naming it after whoever or whatever.

But the current process of considering a possible name change for the airport is giving us an opportunity to learn a little bit about our history. I am fortunate to interact with many people from all walks of life every day, and I have realised that so much of our history is dying because we are not doing enough to keep it alive.

Imagine if, as part of the renaming consultations, learners were encouraged to investigate the history of Cape Town and, especially, the history of people who have played a role in the Struggle in Cape Town.

Many names have been bandied about to be considered for the airport, and many of them are obvious, such as Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela or other Struggle luminaries. However, there are many other people who played a role in the Struggle in the Western Cape, who deserve to be honoured, if not by naming the airport after them, then by some other means.

Some of the names that immediately came to my mind include Oscar Mpetha, Wilfred Rhodes, Zoli Malindi, Johnny Issel, Alex la Guma, Basil February, Christmas Tinto, Coline Williams, Ashley Kriel, Robert Waterwitch, Eddie Daniels, Krotoa, Autshumao, Elizabeth “Nana” Abrahams, Hester Benjamin, Molly Blackburn, Hassan Howa, Frank van der Horst, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman and Cissy Gool.

Philip Kgosana and Professor Jakes Gerwel have been honoured with parts of major roads being named after them, but they probably deserve a bit more recognition.

There are many others who deserve to be on this list, but this is off the top of my head and without consulting any search engines, as most of us do nowadays.

Most Capetonians would probably never have heard of most of these people but, for those of us who were involved in the Struggle, their names and legacy are important.

Of course, there are others who are still alive who should also be honoured, but I have always been nervous about honouring people who are still alive in case they commit indiscretions which could tarnish their legacy. They are human after all.

For those people who are looking puzzled at my list of names, here is some brief information on some of the people who I regard as Struggle heroes.

Oscar Mpetha was a worker and trade union leader who became the Western Cape president of the ANC in 1958 until the organisation was banned in 1960. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1983 after being convicted of terrorism. He spent most of his sentence under armed guard in Groote Schuur Hospital where he had his legs amputated. In this time, he was also elected as one of the co-presidents of the United Democratic Front, an umbrella body of organisations opposed to apartheid.

Mpetha’s co-presidents of the UDF were Albertina Sisulu, who would have turned 100 in October this year, and KZN political veteran Archie Gumede.

Wilfred Rhodes, an activist from the Kensington/Factreton area, was the chairperson of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (Cahac), an umbrella body of civic organisations.

For much of his term in Cahac, a young man called Trevor Manuel was the secretary. Rhodes, who passed away in 2002, was also very active in sport. He was probably one of the most decent human beings I had the pleasure of knowing.

Zoli Malindi and Christmas Tinto were of the same generation and, in many ways, cut from the same cloth. But there were differences. They were both involved in the Western Cape Civic Association, a township equivalent of Cahac and both ascended to high positions in the UDF and the ANC.

Johnny Issel was probably one of the most under-rated and under-celebrated leaders in South Africa.

He was active in the student movement at UWC in the 1970s, and in the UDF and the ANC underground in the 1980s, despite suffering many bannings, house arrest orders and detentions. I learnt most of what I know about politics from Johnny, much of which I learnt in secret political classes we had most Saturday mornings.

Coline Williams, Robert Waterwitch and Ashley Kriel were of the same generation of Umkhonto we Sizwe guerrillas who were killed at a young age in Cape Town.

Autshumao and Krotoa were among the first residents of Cape Town who had to deal with the Dutch invaders in innovative ways in order to survive. I could go on and on.

My aim was not to provide a history lesson but to underscore the importance of knowing our history.

Irrespective of what is decided on the name of the airport, it would be good if the process helps us to remember our history and to honour those who sacrificed so much so that this country could be free.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 2 June 2018)

Racism is alive and kicking and must be tackled

Is the “rainbow nation” finally unravelling? This is a thought that was on my mind all week as I watched the responses to the Ashwin Willemse “no racism” incident which happened last Saturday.

For those who have been doing a Rip van Winkle for the past week, Willemse, a celebrated South African rugby player who does analysis on SuperSport, walked out of the studio after confronting his two fellow analysts - Nick Mallet and Naas Botha, also celebrated South African rugby players - for being patronising. He indicated that, despite his achievements and hard work as a rugby player, he was often seen as a quota player.

Willemse accused his co-analysts of playing rugby in the apartheid era. Botha and Mallett played for South Africa in the 1980s, while Willemse played in the 2000s.

After the walkout, which happened on live television, SuperSport was quick to respond, saying that its preliminary investigation found there was no racism involved in the incident.

This was the case in the original incident, there was plenty of racism involved in the responses from couch potato commentators - mainly from white South Africans.

Frankly, I was not surprised by the vicious responses from white South Africans - many of them highly personal and defamatory. Because this is what we have come to expect when it comes to dealing with racist incidents, especially involving rugby, which many whites still see as belonging to them, with black players and supporters intruding into an area that should have remained exclusively white - as it was in the days when Mallett and Botha played for South Africa.

The Willemse incident brought back many bad memories for me. I thought of the many times I had been patronised throughout my career, for which I fought hard and of which I am proud. I also remembered an incident a few years ago when I realised how proprietary white South Africans are of rugby.

I was the only black person invited to a function by the CEO of a white company and happened to listen in on one of the conversations involving someone who the CEO had earlier introduced to me as his best friend.

The “best friend” told people listening to him that “they had better leave rugby alone, because it has always belonged to us”.

I considered correcting him at that point and telling him about the proud tradition of rugby in the Western Cape, where I grew up, and the Eastern Cape, where I went to play rugby as a youngster, but I looked around the whites-only audience and realised that I was going to be on a hiding to nothing.

I suppose I should have walked out at that point, if I was not going to say anything, but did not want to spoil the occasion for the chief executive, who was my friend but who I realised afterwards, remained a white South African, despite our friendship.

And this is part of the problem in South Africa. Many of us seek solace in group identity when we are dealing with the uncomfortable reality of race and its after-effects in our society. I have seen over and over how many white people react almost in unison, while many black people do the same, to issues perceived to be grounded in racism.

There is no attempt to see or listen to the other side. This is what happened after the Willemse incident. And despite the protestations of SuperSport, race did play a role in what led to Willemse’s comments and actions.

So, is the “rainbow nation” unravelling? My humble submission is that it is not. Because for the “rainbow nation” to unravel, it had to be united at some point and, I believe, we have never been united. We only pretended to be.

We were so eager to move on from our apartheid past after the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s, that we believed our own propaganda.

We believed that we had become the socially cohesive society that we had fought for in the Struggle against apartheid.

But social cohesion does not fall from the sky and does not happen in a few short years. Social cohesion requires continuous hard work.

It requires us to forgo our racial identities and the comfort we get from it. It requires us to listen to others who might look and sound different to us, so that we can understand their lived experiences which ultimately impacts on their world views.

Social cohesion means that we should not wait for a high-profile racial incident to discuss race and racism, because it will always mean we go into our separate corners. We need to engage racism daily, especially when it makes us feel uncomfortable.

We have never been a “rainbow nation” and we will never be unless we work hard at making it a reality. Otherwise, we will remain as divided as we were under apartheid, with the only difference being that racism is now illegal.

And we all know that just because something is illegal, it does not mean that it does not exist.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 26 May 2018)