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Trying to bring media, government together in Zimbabwe

THE picture portrayed by most foreign media about the situation in Zimbabwe is one in which the local media are involved in a daily pitched battle against the government.

That might be so, but I was privileged to be a participant in a workshop last week where the usual protagonists and adversaries sat down and talked to each other.

The workshop, hosted by the Parliament of Zimbabwe and facilitated by the State University of New York, brought together about 60 people in all, including members of parliament from the ruling Zanu-PF, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, along with journalists from the state-owned media and the opposition (or independent) media.

It was held in Kadoma, a little town about two hours’ drive from Harare on the road to Bulawayo.

It was the first time that parliamentary representatives, from both major political parties in Zimbabwe, had sat down with representatives of the media to trash out areas of concern on both sides. The decision to have the workshop was made in December already, but Zimbabwe’s bureaucracy is not unlike other bureaucracies, so the workshop finally happened last week.

I was approached a few weeks before the event to be the chief facilitator. I was supposed to work with two resource people, one a Ugandan journalist, and the other a public relations practitioner from Zimbabwe. By the time the workshop started, two more Zimbabwean facilitators had been added and this raised some eyebrows among some of the participants. The two extra facilitators turned out to be a bonus, because we now had enough facilitators to spread the workload evenly.

The seriousness with which the government of Zimbabwe viewed this workshop was evident by the presence of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the leader of the House, Patrick Chinamasa, and the Minister of Information and Publicity, Jonathan Moyo. Also present for parts of the workshop were a few Deputy Ministers, the Speaker of Parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma, and the chief whips of both Zanu-PF and the MDC.

Unlike many workshops I have attended in South Africa, the Zimbabwe workshop was lively and vigorous, with equal participation from the media and the parliamentary representatives. Members of parliament in Zimbabwe take themselves very serious and address and introduce each other as “Honourable”, which probably helps to take some of the sting out of vicious personal attacks.

The issues raised on both sides would be familiar to South Africans, such as MPs not understanding the way media works, and the media not understanding the way parliament works.

There was a complaint about MPs not being accessible and one woman journalist complained about sexual harassment from male MPs. The way the entire audience responded with laughter, shows that Zimbabwean society still has a long way to go before it can consider itself gender-sensitive.

MPs also complained about being under-resourced and, as such, not being able to respond properly to queries from journalists. Some of the MPs complained about journalists not covering their constituency work. Others complained about being ignored by the television cameras covering parliament.

In the end, after all the complaints had been listened to by both sides, the workshop drew up an action plan that had short-, medium- and long-term objectives.

Among the short-term objectives is to get members of parliament to meet with editors and to visit some of the publishing houses so that they can acquaint themselves with the way the media operates. Journalists who do not normally cover parliament would also be encouraged to visit parliament, so they can understand the workings of parliament better.

It was also agreed that MPs should be trained in how to deal with the media more effectively. This training will include how to conduct press conferences and how to prepare for interviews.

I was disappointed that some of the recent, blatant attacks on media freedom in Zimbabwe were not discussed at all, but maybe that is the subject of another workshop.

The workshop, everyone agreed, was long overdue and just the beginning of a process. Part of the value of the workshop was that, for the first time, members of the rival Zanu-PF and the MDC, sat down and talked. As did members of the state-owned media and the independent media.

The Minister of Justice, Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, properly summed up this change in attitude.

“We are mixing freely now,” he said, “but something happens when we enter the parliamentary chamber. It is almost like we become possessed by demons and start attacking each other.”

One of the abiding memories of this workshop for me will be the sight of Zanu-PF and MDC MPs enjoying drinks together in the bar at night, and  Chinamasa actively engaging a journalist from the independent Daily News.

It showed the value of talking, something which Zimbabweans might be beginning to understand at last.

(First published in the Sunday Independent in 2002. Not sure of the month.)

Just when you’ve thought you’ve made the grade

Thousands of grade 12 pupils throughout South Africa began writing their final examinations this week. While not wanting to take anything away from their accomplishments - they have survived 12 years of schooling, after all - our congratulations should come with a warning. Matric is not the end of their education, but should probably represent the beginning of a new phase which they should embrace.

A matric certificate nowadays is not enough to guarantee you a better life. In fact, having a degree does not do that either, but at least it gives you a better chance of success.

Passing matric is still considered a big thing, especially in poorer communities, where the bulk of children who enter the schooling system do not finish their studies. Research has shown that significantly less than half of children who start primary school end up in matric.

Most of these people end up being unemployed, standing on street corners during the day and providing easy fodder for gangs who exploit their inability to earn money. The sad reality is that the ranks of the unemployed in the townships are boosted by many matriculants who cannot afford to go to university and can’t find work. South Africa is going through a highly troublesome period, something which was indicated in the Medium Term Budget speech by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday.

In short, he said South Africa is spending more money than it collects and he has no idea how to turn things around. This means more young people will be unable to find jobs, despite their educational qualifications, increasing inequality in our already unequal society and leading to more poverty and desperation.

It has been a long time since things have looked so gloomy.

One of the ways many nations have changed their fortunes is by educating their people. In South Africa, primary and high school education is free. But free education has never been qualitatively good and that is why parents with money spend thousands every year, supplementing what government provides so that their children receive quality education.

This has, of course, introduced a new form of apartheid in education, with township schools, which depend on government subsidies, not being able to improve the quality of the education they offer, and what some people call former Model C schools (basically former white schools) being able to improve their educational offering significantly because of the extra thousands provided by parents annually.

For many parents in the townships, school is something their children have to complete as a stepping stone, hopefully, to something better. In many cases, this never materialises.

Every year, a few weeks after writing the matric exams, thousands of candidates wait for their results.

For some, good results mean they can get into good universities and study courses which could secure them a decent income after a few years. For most, however, it is another milestone that they have had to complete, without any idea of how it is going to benefit them, financially or otherwise.

The gap in the quality of education between township schools and universities means that youngsters coming out of inferior education will always struggle to survive at university. I know there are exceptions, but they are not many.

This has implications for what government will decide about the funding of tertiary education.

Students want free education but realistically this will be difficult to achieve, especially against a background of the dire economic situation that Gigaba painted on Wednesday.

Free tertiary education cannot take place without the students coming to the party, whether this is by committing to complete studies in a prescribed number of years or agreeing to make some contribution to society after completing their education.

There also needs to be a way of making sure that those who can pay, make at least some contribution.

The situation in South Africa requires decisive leadership, something we have been lacking for a while.

Instead, we have reached a situation where the government - and particularly the president - appears only to take decisions when faced with a court order or threats of legal action.

If I were president - and I will never be, for too many reasons to list here - I would take the nation into my confidence. I would urgently convene a summit of the best brains in the country, from business, labour, civil society and academia, among others, and I would ask them a simple question: how do we take this country forward?

Yes, I know we have the National Development Plan (NDP) which is a great document that seems almost unattainable in the current economic climate. But we need another intervention - a jolt almost - to get us to that point where we can start to realistically look at achieving the goals of the NDP.

We need to put aside political differences and work together in the best interest of the country.

Failure to do this will mean that matric certificates and even degrees will become almost meaningless if we do not create jobs to absorb those who have achieved, and if we are not able to pay to improve the quality of our education.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 28 October 2017)

 

Good people can be racist and jump to wrong conclusions

It was one of those weeks when there was a lot going on locally. Mandla Langa’s completion of the second biography of Nelson Mandela was launched in Johannesburg, Sisonke Msimang launched her biography in Cape Town, the District Six Museum hosted a storytelling session in Langa, and we commemorated the 40th anniversary of Black Wednesday, 19 October 1977, when the government banned several newspapers and organisations, and banned and/or detained many journalists. Their crime was to oppose apartheid.

We even managed to see Shakespeare in Love at the Fugard Theatre, which provided some respite from what turned out to be an otherwise heavy news week. We cannot overlook the conflicts that are going on in many parts of the world, and the constant reshuffling of his executive by our President who appears to have itchy feet or fingers or both.

I have given up trying to speculate about what is going on in the mind of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. All I know is that he manages to catch his opponents off guard a lot of the time, indicating what a master strategist he is. I am not saying he is a good man or even a good politician, but I am saying that he is clever and should not be underestimated. He has shown that over and over.

But the story that grabbed most of my attention is one involving a goat and a few other animals.

The story of a seven-year-old’s birthday party in a Woodstock park which was assumed by a white resident to be a ritual animal slaughter – or worse – indicates how far we still have to go as residents of Cape Town and South Africa in order to even begin to understand each other.

Much has been written about this story, including the eventual and inevitable apology, and there are some people who probably believe that we should move on now – just like they believe we should move on from apartheid which ended more than 23 years ago.

The unfortunate thing is that while legalised apartheid and discrimination might be a thing of the past, it is much more difficult to rid our psyche of the apartheid mentality and of the almost inherent need to discriminate.

I have no doubt that Megan Furniss considers herself a good person. From her Facebook profile, I gather that she is a vegan who loves animals. She even has a blog where she talks about a lot of societal issues and she is involved in the theatre industry. From my contacts in the industry, she appears to have done several interesting things in theatre.

But even good people have flaws. Even good people can be racist. Even good people can discriminate. Even good people can be Islamophobic. Even good people can jump to wrong conclusions.

In the apartheid days, I often thought about the mindset of members of the security police who used to hunt down, detain and beat up anti-apartheid activists during the day and go home to have dinner with their families at night. They probably even read their children bedtime stories. They probably loved their families and saw the work they did in upholding apartheid as a job which had to be done.

It is not easy to be good, at least not all the time, and most people have lapses from time to time. It is how you respond to those lapses that can set you apart from others.

I try to be good. I have humanitarian values, I oppose violence and I do not believe in the death penalty. But I know that if anyone hurt any of my daughters, my views might change and my behaviour might change.

But I digress.

The problem with what happened in the park in Woodstock over the weekend shows that many Capetonians, and probably South Africans, are still intolerant to those who might appear to be different from them. It is easy to assume all the bad stereotypes when you see a group of people who might appear to have a lot in common, but just not with you.

In the era of social media, it is easy to express your uneasiness when confronted with a situation involving people who appear to be different to you. And it is just as easy to regret your views.

Should we move on so quickly and easily from what happened in the Woodstock park? I don’t think so. I believe we should learn lessons from all unfortunate incidents. The main lesson here is not to make assumptions and not to express your assumptions in public without verifying what was really going on. A subsidiary lesson is that we are very far from being the “Rainbow nation” we sometimes pretend to be.

Imagine if Furniss had gone to speak to the family involved and learnt what they were really doing, her initial post might have been completely different and probably very positive. It would probably not had received the social media traction it did.

I have always said that ignorance is to blame for many of our problems. Ignorance can often lead to intolerance, intolerance can sometimes lead to hatred, and there is no limit to what can result from hatred.

I suggest that Furniss, apart from apologising via social media, should look up the family she offended and learn a little bit (or a lot) about their cultures and traditions. It might end up making her a truly good person. The only way to deal with ignorance is to actively learn about each other.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 21 October 2017)

We should prepare now for more stormy futures

It began slowly, but suddenly. A loud thump against the bonnet of the car, which we thought was a stone, followed by another, and then a bombardment of huge hail dropping from all sides of the car. It was Monday, just before 4pm, and a colleague and I were driving to an appointment in Roodepoort when we were caught up in what has been described as one of the biggest storms to hit Gauteng in recent years.

It lasted a lifetime, or so it seemed, even though the clock indicated the first rush of hail, which transformed the landscape almost immediately, was over within 15 minutes. This was followed by another hailstorm about 30 minutes later. By that time, we were safely at our meeting venue, but could hardly hear each other as the hail made thunderous music on the roof and windows of the building.

I have lived in Gauteng and travel there often, so had become used to thunderstorms and summer rains, but I had never been caught in a hail storm before and it was scary. I am surprised there was not more damage to the hired car, apart from some dents caused by hail stones, some of which were easily the size of golf balls. At one point, I thought the windscreen would be smashed.

At times I could not see where we were going, but there was no safe place to turn off, only trees, and we know it is not safe to park anywhere near trees in a storm. So we stopped and started until we got to our meeting, where we felt safer. I only told my colleague later how scared I was.

A day later, my fears appeared almost silly when I saw the flooding people in KwaZulu-Natal were experiencing and I read that what appeared to be a tornado had flattened homes in other parts of Gauteng and at least five people had been killed in Gauteng and 11 in KwaZulu-Natal. I saw the pictures of the devastation and I counted my lucky stars.

All the time, I thought about the drought in Cape Town and how we could do with the rain - without the hail, thunder and flooding, of course.

What is happening with the weather is not surprising, given the warnings of climate change of which we have been warned of for years, warnings that always seem to fall on unresponsive ears.

I remember when I first lived in Gauteng more than 20 years ago. You could set your watch to the weather, especially in summer.

We would take my daughters for swimming lessons at a local pool after school and knew we would have to take them out of the pool just after 3pm because a thunderstorm would be approaching.

The storm would last about 15 minutes and then the sun would return. My daughters would then make their way back into the swimming pool.

It is difficult to convince people about the dangers of climate change, and those who appear to be convinced are in a minority. It looks unlikely we will be able to save the planet and its people by changing behaviours, unless this is regulated, which requires convincing governments and international agencies.

It is also difficult to dictate to the weather how it should behave.

But what can be done is to prepare for the worst.

What the bad weather in Gauteng and KZN showed is the poor quality of infrastructure in those provinces. That roads could become flooded so easily might indicate a poor drainage system. When holes appear so quickly in Gauteng roads may indicate the use of inferior materials in constructing these roads.

The Western Cape is not off the hook here.

Whenever there are major rains in Cape Town - and we have not had any for quite a while - roads and, in some cases, entire townships get flooded.

I am not trying to downplay this week’s storms, but I feel that if we had prepared properly the situation could have been much better and at least some of the devastation avoided.

Governments are good at reacting after the fact, declaring disaster areas - whether it is because of weather or, in the case of Cape Town townships, gang warfare - but they are not good at preventing and minimising the catastrophes that necessitate declaring disaster areas.

Planning is important, as well as proper execution of plans.

Perhaps the storms are telling us more about the government’s inability to handle crisis than we are prepared to admit.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 14 October 2017)

Upliftment is the way to bring down crime levels

On Tuesday the shuttle driver who was taking me to Cape Town International Airport told me, almost nonchalantly, that he’d lived in Marikana, Philippi, until last week but had fled the area and moved to Khayelitsha after the recent violence which saw at least 18 people killed over a 10-day period.

“At least I feel safer in Harare in Khayelitsha,” he said.

It was a strange statement, seeing that Harare was, not too long ago, deemed to be one of the most crime-ridden areas in Khayelitsha.

But for someone who lives in a violent environment - where you could get killed every day, either in random gang shootings, planned assassinations or other violent actions - safety is a relative term.

Marikana is what is euphemistically called an informal settlement, consisting mainly of corrugated iron shacks, while Harare is a mix of shacks and formal housing, with a few facilities such as a library, small shops and even a satellite police station.

Marikana started years ago when people began invading privately-owned land near the airport to build homes. It is estimated that more than 60 000 people now live on the land.

It is probably one of the most dangerous places to live and one will have to wait and see whether the remedial action announced with big fanfare by Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula this week - because he knows of no other way in which to make announcements - will have any effect.

The minister announced a change in leadership at the Philippi East Police Station and the introduction of 40 extra police officers in the area.

I welcome these moves but more needs to be done. The problem with beefing up the police and making the kind of changes which Mbalula has made, is that this could signal to criminals that they have the lawmakers and peacekeepers on the back foot. It is a short-term solution that does not address the structural problems in the area.

The police have announced the steps that they are taking to counter the criminals. The criminals have not announced their moves. They never do.

The best way to police areas such as Marikana, which is dense, over-populated and difficult to navigate because of a lack of roads and other infrastructure, is by winning over the community, which seems not to have happened in this case.

Too often, criminals get away with their activities because they have the protection of the community. Gangsters are often the sons and daughters of community members who will do everything in their power to “protect” their loved ones. Many community members live in hope children who are involved in gangs or other criminal activities will one day “see the light”.

I lived in many dangerous places on the Cape Flats as a youth, including at least two “squatter camps”, which is what we called “informal settlements” in the old days, and I remember how we depended on the support of community members when we walked to school or collected water from a tap on privately-owned land. We had to pay for every bucket of water we collected.

We also “made friends” with the local gangsters because if we did not do that, they would not allow us to walk through their areas and we would never be able to go to school.

We never went out at night and always slept with one eye open because a shack does not afford one much protection. Sometimes at night, one could hear the sounds of what appeared to be gang fights outside. In many ways, we were trapped in our shacks at night.

As I grew older and became involved in community organisation, I realised that this is often one of the best ways to deal with seemingly unstable communities. Community organisations which become true voices of the people they claim to represent can help with addressing a range of social issues, including crime and gangsterism.

Through community organisations, the affected people can feel they are playing a role in determining the future of their community and their children.

One hopes the mobilisation that resulted in more than 300 people storming the police station last week, demanding action against criminals - action which probably led to Mbalula’s visit and announcements this week - can be harnessed in a positive and a permanent manner.

It would be a pity if it was only a one-off protest. There should be a way of turning the anger against crime into a concern for the upgrading and upliftment of the community.

Crime never operates in isolation and is often the result of a range of other social ills, such as unemployment, poverty and a lack of housing. If dealt with properly and things do get turned around in Marikana, this could serve as an example of how to deal with crime and other societal issues in a grim situation. But that will require more than grand announcements and will need some real community engagement.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 7 October 2017)

Selfless leaders are vanishing in the ruling party

POLITICIANS are inherently full of contradictions. Politics is never about doing public service and helping poor people. It is often only about the self-interests of a politician, a group of politicians or a political party.

It is sometimes difficult to understand the actions of politicians. Surely, if you see yourself as a public servant, then you should be doing everything in your power to ensure that the people are served appropriately, even if it means that your actions might harm a group of politicians or the political party to who you might have pledged allegiance.

For the past couple of years, many people who have traditionally been loyal to the African National Congress, which still rules the country, most provinces and most cities and towns, have found themselves questioning their loyalty. This is because there has been mounting evidence that some ANC leaders appeared to have been working the interest of business, and one family in particular, as opposed to working in the interests of the majority of South Africans.

Many of these people, some in the leadership of the ANC, have been grappling with the best way to voice their displeasure at the way a once-noble movement has been reduced to a bunch of bag boys, thieves and tenderpreneurs.

I remember speaking to a Minister a few years ago and he told me that he was hanging in because, if he resigned, he would be replaced with someone who was compliant. He thought it best to fight from the inside.

Most people who depend on the ANC for their livelihood will not have the courage to leave the party, as former MP and rising star Dr Makhosi Khoza did recently. Most will not even have the courage to raise their discomfort.

I never thought that I would one day write anything negative about the ANC because, throughout the Struggle years, the ANC always best represented, in theory at least, the vision of South Africa with which I agreed.

As the ANC has seemingly unravelled in front of our eyes, I like many others have looked at the alternatives. I’ve always struggled to find resonance with most of the other political parties.

The one opposition party still has some way to go to shake off its colonial past, I struggle to support any party which calls its leader commander-in-chief because it brings up images of African military dictatorships, and it is sad to see how the once-powerful and charismatic Terror Lekota has become an almost pathetic bit-part player in Parliament. The only party that could be vaguely appealing is Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (which he incidentally started with former Nationalist Party blue-eyed boy Roelf Meyer who is now in the ANC) but I don’t know if they have much appeal and interest beyond the Eastern Cape.

I’ve never allowed my political allegiance to impact on my writing and other journalistic decisions or general political behaviour. Instead, I have allowed myself to be guided by broad principles based on personal values, the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. I judge everyone and everything against these and decide, based on these, whether any politician or political party is worthy of my support.

Using this method, I work with people across political parties who are interested in uplifting poor communities and not only advancing their own careers and parties. I realised a long time ago already that there are good and bad people in all political parties. Sometimes the only thing that keeps certain people in a political party is their chance of advancing politically and career-wise.

There appears to be no limit to how far some people will go to advance their political careers, even if it means distorting history or erasing history.

An example of this is the recent funeral of former ANC Youth League secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, where his links with Julius Malema, who was ANCYL president at the time, was completely overlooked.

Another example is the recent dinner to mark the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the National Development Plan where there was not a single mention of Trevor Manuel, who was the minister responsible for heading up the National Planning Commission, who drew up the NDP. One would have thought that the President, who was the keynote speaker, would have mentioned the contribution of Manuel and current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was Manuel’s deputy on the NPC. Manuel, of course, has been critical of Zuma, while Ramaphosa, who was also not at the event, is opposing Zuma’s preferred ANC presidential candidate.

Maybe the solution for those who want to make a political contribution to South Africa is to look outside political parties. Get involved in non-governmental organisations who do good work in communities. But continue to hold politicians to account, not only through your vote but by pointing out their wrongdoings.

It is not good enough just to condemn politicians. We must show them what needs to be done to make a change to our society. And we need to do this without thinking of our own self-interests.

(First pubished as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 30 September 2017)

#HeritageDay: Coloured identity coloured by outside influences

IT WAS after 9am on Monday and a small truck with a stage and sound equipment was standing on the sports field at Groote Schuur High school. The stage was to be used by a rapper from Wynberg, who goes by the name of YoungstaCPT, as part of a roadshow to inspire pupils.

The event, which was sponsored by a cellphone network, was supposed to start at 8.30am, but around 9.30am pupils and teachers started coming from all directions and walking towards the stage, which was at the far end of the sports field. Within minutes, excitement had developed with an introduction by Blake Williams, a former world champion hip hop freestyle dancer, who also grew up in the southern suburbs.

He told the story of how he had won the world title twice in succession, the first person to do this.

But the real excitement was reserved for YoungstaCPT, who had the crowd rapping along from the first to the last song with his self-penned songs in a mixture of English and Afrikaans.

The adulation displayed by the pupils was the kind normally reserved for overseas performers. I found it amazing and exciting the pupils were as enthusiastic about seeing a local artist perform as opposed to yet another American artist.

On Tuesday night, we went to a different event. It was the launch of Dr Ruben Richards’s new book, Bastaards or Humans: The Unspoken Heritage of Coloured People, which was hosted at the Castle of Good Hope. It started with a discussion among religious leaders, a ceremony in the infamous dungeon, known as Donker Gat, followed by the book launch proper.

While the two events had little in common, especially not the music (the book launch featured mainly cover versions of American music which went against the ritualistic and traditional feel of everything else, including the involvement of a group of Khoisan leaders), both represented parts of the Cape’s unique heritage. This is important in the week that we celebrate our heritage.

Yes, I know, Heritage Day has become nothing more than braai day to many, but that is something that needs to be addressed through proper education.

As I watched YoungstaCPT talking to the Groote Schuur pupil about the history of the Western Cape - or the "Wes-Kaap", as he calls it (it is the name of one of his most popular songs) - I thought about why this understanding of our history and our heritage does not filter through to the classrooms in a much more aggressive manner.

I thought the same thing as I listened to Richards reading excerpts from his book which dealt with the early history of the group of people known as coloureds or, in some circles, as so-called “coloureds”. Richards seemed to be determined to place “coloureds” in the rightful place in history.

I am one of those not entirely convinced of the need to define anyone as “coloured”. I’ve written about this a lot, in my book Race and in many subsequent columns. I started off dismissing this notion completely but, more recently, I have adopted the position that people should be welcome to identify themselves in whatever way they wish to.

I also believe that people can identify me in whatever way they wish, as long as they respect my right to identify myself in a way that makes me comfortable. I really don’t care if anyone wants to call me “coloured”, but that is not something I call myself.

The main basis for my rejection is you should not have a group identity based on what you are not. It should be based on what you are. A large part of the “coloured” group identity seems to be based on the fact this group is not white and not black.

But dismissing the group identity does not mean I dismiss many of the cultural attributes associated with this identity, rightly or wrongly.

It does not mean I cannot enjoy the food that “coloureds” are supposed to enjoy, or enjoy the music they are supposed to enjoy, to choose two obvious coloured markers.

My enjoyment of a particular kind of food or music does not mean I enjoy only that kind of food or music.

The joy of living in a country as deurmekaar as South Africa is that there are many aspects of different cultures and heritage that we can enjoy.

This Heritage Day weekend, I would implore everyone to step out of their comfort zones and explore something different.

You can still enjoy your braai (seeing how this has become cultural), but enjoy something from other cultures too.

Maybe while you are at it, enjoy more than the American music that is so popular among people who identify themselves as “coloureds” and many other South Africans, and listen to YoungstaCPT and the many other young people like him who are writing their own songs and charting a new, exciting direction for South African music.

Happy Heritage Day everyone.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 23 September 2017)

When will the Freedom Charter be realised in SA?

IT WAS not easy growing up on the Cape Flats, especially not in an area like Hanover Park, which was known for its gangsterism and unemployment. But I grew up in the area more than 40 years ago and the sad thing is that the situation does not seem to have improved.

When we were fighting against apartheid, we were inspired by the Freedom Charter, which promised that “there shall be houses, security and comfort”.

It is sometimes good to remind ourselves what was written in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted at Kliptown, Soweto, on June 26, 1955. This is what it said under the clause of “houses, security and comfort”:

“All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security; unused housing space to be made available to the people; rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no one shall go hungry; a preventive health scheme shall be run by the state; free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children; slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres; the aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state; rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all; fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished, and laws which break up families shall be repealed.”

In the dark days of apartheid, we saw in our minds a picture of what the Freedom Charter envisaged. We were determined that a democratic South Africa would be one in which there would be no or little gangsterism, that the government would build decent houses and see to the other needs expressed in this, and the nine other clauses in the Freedom Charter.

It is sad that the situation in most cases is still the same as it was under apartheid, especially in the townships. Granted, there are black people who have benefited economically in democratic South Africa but most people are still waiting to reap the benefits of the not-so-new South Africa.

In places like Hanover Park, families are still being held hostage by gangsters who operate with impunity. For many young people, the only way to survive is by joining gangs who, at least, provide you with protection in certain areas.

Most of the young boys who grew up with me were wooed by gangs and some of them succumbed. In an environment where you are not likely to matriculate and, if you do, you are not likely to be able to afford to go to university (or you might not qualify to go), and you will struggle to find work, gangs provide a refuge against a multitude of problems.

Gangs often provide a home for young people who might not feel they belong in society. I know, because I flirted with being a gang member in my early teens. Fortunately for me, sanity prevailed and I concentrated on my studies.

I discovered in those days that, if you had a talent - such as being good at music or sport - the gangs would allow you the freedom to pursue your dreams. It also helped if you were better than average academically.

It is sad that things have not changed for the better in places like Hanover Park but it is even sadder that things do not look like improving any time soon.

It is not that government does not know the problems. The National Development Plan, which was launched five years ago this week, outlines in a very comprehensive manner the problems in our society and the goals we need to achieve to become a better place.

The NDP outcomes, for instance, talk about “sustainable human settlements and improved quality of life”, “improved quality of basic education”, “all people in South Africa are to feel safe” and “a long and healthy life for all South Africans”.

For people in Hanover Park and other townships on the Cape Flats, this means nothing. And it will continue to mean nothing as long as people do not feel safe in their houses and are unable to do anything to improve their living conditions due to a lack of job opportunities or chances to engage the economy in a meaningful way.

The government needs to focus beyond the narrow vision that it seems to have and engage poor communities in a discussion about how they can finally feel that they have a stake in our country. The Freedom Charter says, “that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief”.

More than 62 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter and 23 years into our democracy, it would be important for politicians to remember these words.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 September 2017)

Wage discrepancy highlights discrimination at work

WHEN I joined the Cape Herald - a newspaper aimed at the “coloured” community - as a young reporter in 1980, I earned R200 a month. It was not a bad salary for a 20-year-old youngster who grew up on the Cape Flats.

However, a few months after I began my journalism career, we discovered white staff were earning more than double what we and other blacks throughout the country were earning.

We went on strike and, after holding out for more than a month, management gave in to our demands and my salary doubled to R400 a month. A month or so later, I received a merit increase which pushed my salary up to R500 a month, and I felt like the richest man on the planet but realised the salary I was earning was normal for people who were not black.

I was reminded of this during the week when I listened to talk show host Eusebius McKaiser and his guests discussing the discrepancy between the salaries of black and white professionals and between males and females.

Jaen Beelders, managing director of Analytico, which monitors what people earn, said on the show that white professionals earn an average of R22000 a month versus the R8000 paid to black professionals.

In the same week, John Maytham talked on his show about the plight of black professionals in Cape Town. Maytham’s guest was Valerie Tapela, who did her M Phil in coaching management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. Her research tried to answer the question: “Where are the black professionals in Cape Town?”

She concluded that the city is stuck in the ways of the “old order” and racial discrimination is still rife.There is no easy answer to why Cape Town appears to be unfriendly towards black Africans. Part of it has to be because of the city's history, which was a “coloured preferential” area during apartheid. But more than 23 years into our democracy, we have no justification for using apartheid as an excuse for making anyone feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in our beautiful city.

As Capetonians, we need to begin to embrace our South African and African identities. We must start feeling comfortable with being part of our country and our continent. In the same way, people who might be from other parts of our country and our continent should also feel comfortable in our city.

I have been privileged to have travelled widely in our country and on the continent, and I have always felt welcome, wherever I have gone.

One of the ways we make people feel unwelcome is by paying them less than others. The same argument about the Western Cape embracing others should apply to the people in corporates who decide on salaries for executives. It is unforgivable in 2017 for blacks and women to be paid less than whites and males.

I have previously got into trouble with readers of this column by pointing out that the economic wealth in South Africa is still concentrated mainly in white hands. In fact, a week or so after I wrote about this in a column, I had a meeting with a white woman who told me she normally likes my column but that I sometimes upset her when I point out economic inequalities. “I agree with you, but we don’t want to be reminded of it all the time,” she said.

But we cannot get away from the fact that black people would not underpay other black people while paying whites more. Nor would women underpay other women while paying men more. The only conclusion is that white men are the ones who are mainly in charge of determining salaries, and they tend to reward people who they think look and sound like them. I know this is a simplistic analysis, but I am merely thinking aloud.

The only way to deal with discrimination is to expose it. If you know of people who are underpaying people based on race or gender, you should raise it with the relevant Chapter Nine Organisation, whether it is the Human Rights Commission or the Gender Commission.

If you live in Cape Town and notice people who are trying to bring back apartheid - an era in which black people were not welcome in our city - then you need to make a noise about it. We cannot afford to ignore racism and discrimination because we don’t want to upset the apple cart or upset our neighbours and so-called friends. If we do that, racism and discrimination will be with us forever.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 September 2017)

Voices of ordinary people matter in a just society

IT CAN be depressing to be a South African nowadays. Almost every day there are more revelations of corruption and misdoing, especially among some senior government officials in collusion with certain business people.

There are many sceptics who feel South Africa is on a slippery slope and that, inevitably, we are going to end up in the situation where many other African countries have found themselves 20 or so years after liberation or independence.

If one allows one's world view to be informed only by what one reads on the Internet or in newspapers, then it is quite understandable that many South Africans would want to slit their wrists because, surely, there is no hope.

The mistake many people make is that they think the government equates with South Africa. Yes, the government is an important part of South African society, but it is not the only part. There are many other parts of South African society that give me real hope for the future.

I interact almost daily with people who are quietly making a difference to our society, through helping their neighbours, helping to educate children or helping children improve their education. Sometimes, this work is done as part of companies’ corporate social responsibility programmes but, often, it is done out of the goodness of someone's heart.

I derive most hope from what some would euphemistically term “ordinary people”. These are the people who politicians often take for granted and who carry on with life despite the shenanigans of politicians, and others, and not because of it.

South Africans have shown over the years that we can be resilient and formidable. We are known for being able to overcome huge odds and being able to unite based on the fact that we are such a diverse society.

In this month, when we celebrate our heritage, it is important to remember where we come from so we can determine where we want to go. Not too long ago, South Africa was ruled by people who believed in legalised oppression and exploitation. They successfully disenfranchised millions of South Africans and tried to use the vast resources of this country to benefit only a small minority. They ruled on the basis of exclusion, rather than inclusion. Any attempts to question their rule, and propose more viable and human alternatives, met with suppression.

People who compare South Africa today with what happened under apartheid have never lived under apartheid or have forgotten what is was like to live under apartheid. To say it was rough is an understatement.

Like many others who share my background of anti-apartheid activism, I am seriously disappointed with what is happening in government. It appears someone has declared a free-for-all in terms of corruption and many people with access to the public purse have decided to accept this invitation.

There are ways of dealing with corruption and these require leadership from the highest levels. The first way is to expose corruption wherever it exists. Corruption does not only exist in government; and government officials who are corrupted must surely have counterparts in private business who are aiding and abetting their corruption.

But there are many cases of corruption that do not involve government. One can think here of collusion between companies in industries where there are virtual monopolies.

The media has a powerful role to play in exposing corruption but the media cannot do this alone. They need honest people with a conscience to come forward to inform them of where abuse is taking place. Without whistle-blowers, many things will never be brought to the attention of the public.

The other way of dealing with corruption is to make sure that those who are corrupt face the consequences. Too often, we are outraged at some revelation of corrupt activity only to move on the next day when confronted by another brazen act of corruption. In this process, too many people are able to get away with their criminal activities.

Corruption must be seen as a crime and described as such. It is stealing, often from the “ordinary people” who depend on the government and others with resources to make a difference in their lives.

What gives me hope for our country is that there are millions of South Africans who have decided we are not going to go the way of many other African countries. These people are united in civil society formations and are making their voices heard.

These groups include many people who have lived through apartheid and understand that we can no longer have a government that does not listen to the people.

I am confident that, just like we defeated apartheid, we will be able to defeat corruption and move forward to making South Africa the great country we know it can become. What this will require is a reminder to those in government and business that they are not the only people who matter. The “ordinary people” matter as much and should make their voices heard.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 2 September 2017)

For District Six claimants, life's a stairway to hell

LAST month we attended a meeting in the City Hall where a newly formed representative body reported back to former District Six residents about the plans to bring some of them back to the area. I have been feeling uncomfortable about the meeting ever since.

We attended with my parents-in-law who had made a claim almost 20 years ago to return to the area from where they were forcibly removed to Mitchells Plain in the late 1970s. It has been a long and tiring process which, in their case, has meant attending meeting after meeting with government officials, only to walk away every time feeling nothing has changed.

We went to the latest meeting in high hopes, but walked away feeling the same despondency that we have felt many times in the past few years.

To call what has happened in District Six a disgrace is an understatement. It is ironic that, in our democratic era, the barren land lies as a reminder of one of apartheid’s worst crimes against people who were oppressed and dispossessed.

First let me deal with the meeting we attended. The meeting was held in the City Hall, which is not disabled friendly and definitely not a place where you would call a meeting with mainly older citizens. The downstairs hall filled up very quickly and we found ourselves having to climb the steep stairs with two people aged around 80.

I had problems with the meeting being co-hosted, and apparently being sponsored, by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, because you need a forum where District Six residents can talk freely without being watched over by government.

But I understand that the committee, whose members had only been appointed about two years ago and who work as volunteers, does not have money and would not have been able to afford hosting such a big meeting.

The meeting started well, with mainly administrative stuff, but when the floor was opened for questions and comments, the raw emotions that many people still feel over what happened in District Six, came to the fore.

It was clear there were many people who had run out of patience to return to the place that still holds dear memories about their youth. Many older people, who had lodged claims, have passed on and their children are now fighting for compensation.

My in-laws were hoping to hear when they would get a house in District Six, as they have been on the waiting list longer than most. But, once again, they left without being any clearer.

The only thing the meeting did was to agree on a process whereby people would be placed on the waiting list and ways in which houses would be allocated. The major purpose of the meeting, it appeared, was to get a mandate for the committee to speak on behalf of the residents.

District Six was declared a white group area more than 50 years ago and removals took place throughout the 1970s and even into the 1980s. Because of pressure from community groups, the apartheid government was never able to realise their plans to turn the area into a white residential area, with the only building on the site being the buildings of what is now known as the Cape Town campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

These buildings still stand out as a sore thumb in District Six.

In recent years, a few houses have been built for people to return, but the building has been at less than a snail’s pace. The first buildings were single- and double-storey, but the lates, which must still be allocated, also boast three-storey apartments.

After attending the meeting at the City Hall, we drove to see the new houses and I could not help thinking about how old people are supposed to climb the stairs to reach their third-floor apartments. And, when they reach the top, they will probably not be able to come down because of the effort involved.

I suppose, for the officials involved, it is not about dealing with the situation in a compassionate manner but merely making sure they provide housing for the people who have been forcibly removed, even if the new housing is inadequate.

As a young man in the 1980s, I was one of those who believed the democracy we were fighting for would be based on respect, because apartheid was based on a lack of respect. However, when I look at the way people are treated around District Six - as just one example of how respect is not deemed as important by those in power - then I feel we have moved away from what we had envisioned.

Democracy will only work if everyone feels that his/her views and feelings are considered. The people who were moved from District Six can justifiably feel that their views and feelings are not important.

Why else would they be kept waiting for so long?

I wish I was wrong, but you cannot argue when you see what is happening in front of your eyes. I really want my in-laws to return to District Six, because it is what they have always hoped for, but not to a third-floor apartment where they will be trapped. They would probably be better off staying in their little home in Mitchells Plain.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 26 August 2017)

Zimbabwe illustrates how unchecked power corrupts

I RECENTLY helped edit a trilogy of books written by former Zimbabwean deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara called In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream. The first of the three books has just been released.

I had to reacquaint myself with Zimbabwean politics and history. As I was reminded of where Zimbabwe came from, and their proud struggle for liberation which ended in a flawed Lancaster House Agreement, I could not help but feel sad about what is taking place there now.

The last time I visited Zimbabwe was more than 15 years ago but, even then, one could begin to see a society unravelling. The Zim dollar was trading at around 300 to the rand, but soon it was trading at millions to the rand. The Zim dollar was eventually scrapped and Zimbabweans now trade in American dollars.

At the heart of the Zimbabwean crisis is a political party, Zanu-PF, which believes it is anointed to rule forever because of the role it played in its liberation struggle. There are people in Zimbabwe who believes in the slogan: “The bullet is more powerful than the ballot”. The argument is that Zanu-PF liberated Zimbabweans by using the bullet, so they cannot be removed by the ballot.

Part of the problem with this argument is that the rivals to Zanu-PF, Zapu, probably played a more prominent role in the liberation struggle and that the two liberation movements were forced into a negotiated settlement which left much to be desired. The theory about using the bullet to achieve liberation does not really hold water.

But Zanu-PF and its president, Robert Mugabe, have consistently found ways to undermine their country’s constitution and cling to power. As a result, Mugabe is still the party’s preferred candidate for president in next year’s elections - he’ll be 94 then. Mugabe was prime minister from independence in 1980 until 1987, and has been president ever since. He has effectively been in power for all the 37 years that Zimbabwe has been “free”.

There are similarities with South Africa. There are many people who argue the PAC was more prominent in the Liberation Struggle than the ANC, but this is debatable. The liberation movements in South Africa also had to negotiate a settlement with their former oppressors and adversaries. Like Zapu in Zimbabwe, the PAC in South Africa has all but disappeared.

For now, we have hope in South Africa, but I don’t know for how long, judging by the actions of some people in the ruling party over the past few weeks and months.

The ANC seems to think its constitution can overrule the country’s constitution, an approach that is very dangerous. Several ANC members have been talking about hounding and disciplining the ANC members who voted with the opposition in the secret ballot. The Constitutional Court’s ruling meant the MPs should have expected some protection, irrespective of how they voted. But the ANC does not seem to think so.

Also, several ANC MPs and at least one minister refused to co-operate with a parliamentary committee chaired by someone who was believed to have voted against President Jacob Zuma in the secret vote. They were effectively saying that they do not care about Parliament’s oversight role as much as they care about following the right factional line in the ANC.

It is against this background that I watched this week’s shenanigans around Grace Mugabe, 52, Mugabe’s second wife. Mrs Mugabe is believed to have assaulted a young woman with an electrical extension cord after finding her and another woman in a hotel room with her two sons, Robert jr, 24, and Bellarmine Chatunga, 20.

After Police Minister Fikile Mbalula promised that she would face the might of the South African law, Mrs Mugabe apparently “left” the country, only to resurface the next day, claiming diplomatic immunity. My hunch is that nothing will come of the case against Grace Mugabe. She has got away with worse in her country.

Those of us who care about the rule of law and democracy need to continue to put pressure on the government to make sure that Grace Mugabe does not get away with what appeared to be blatant assault. People who commit crimes in South Africa, irrespective of the position they hold, need to know they will be prosecuted and fined or jailed.

We need to start with the many South African politicians and supposed public servants who appear to have enriched themselves through corruption.

In my humble opinion, and I am thinking aloud, our only hope in South Africa is for civil society to hold the ANC and other political parties to account, to make sure that they follow the constitution so that we can achieve our potential as a country.

Power, as they say, corrupts. And nowhere is this truer than in Zimbabwe.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 19 August 2017)

Why are the police reluctant to deal with Manana?

I DESPERATELY wanted to write something positive this week. After all, this is the week when we are supposed to celebrate the glorious struggle for equality waged by South African women, and we recall the march on August 9, 1956 by thousands of women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest at pass laws.

For those too young to remember, pass laws were introduced to keep Africans out of the cities because the apartheid government believed they should restrict themselves to rural homelands. A pass became a hated document that all Africans had to carry with them, especially in the cities. If you were found without one, you could be sent to jail.

But we have moved on and now have a democracy where we can all live wherever we want in South Africa. Of course, there are some people, especially in the Western Cape, who believe foreigners should be welcomed in our city and not people from the Eastern Cape, but that is a subject for another column.

I was determined to be positive this week and to remember the many amazing women who played a part in shaping the man I have become. Among these are my mother, who worked as a domestic worker or any other job she could find, but still found time to teach me to read so that, by the time I went to school, I could read books that were normally read by children who were already at school for a few years.

My two older sisters looked after me when my mother was not around. I was the youngest of five children but my brothers never seemed to care for me in the same way as my sisters did.

Since then, there were many other women in my life, including aunts and cousins, but my special women remain my wife and three daughters, who put up with me and all my peculiarities (for want of an understated word).

But just as I was preparing to be positive, the news broke about the deputy minister of higher education, Mduduzi Manana, who assaulted a woman at a night club over the weekend.

What angered me most about this case is not that it happened in Women's Month - any assault on a woman is bad, irrespective of when it happens - but the response from the authorities.

To say the police were slack is a compliment. It seemed police were trying to find reasons not to arrest the offending deputy minister, hiding behind the need for a “proper investigation”. This was, of course, after Manana confessed that he “slapped” the woman. Video evidence suggested the assault was, in fact, more violent than that.

Out of respect for my mother and all the women who helped to raise me, I have a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women. It is something I practise throughout my life and not only for 16 days in December, like some politicians.

Perhaps because this assault fell outside of the 16 days when politicians focus on violence against women and children, most political parties were not very vocal on what I consider to be a serious issue. Violence against women and children is one of the most serious issues affecting especially poorer communities and perpetrators will find solace in the police reluctance to act against Manana.

At the very least, I would have expected Manana to be arrested immediately, or to give himself up at a police station. He admitted his guilt, even if only partially, and he must be prepared to accept the consequences.

The only way to deal with serious crimes - and I consider this to be one - is by making examples of perpetrators. Criminals must know they will be arrested and prosecuted and, if convicted, they will spend time in jail.

At the time of writing, the police minister had announced that Manana was going to appear in court. Why an announcement? Why not just arrest him and take him to court? The police and the ruling party are sending out a wrong signal with regards to this case. But, I suppose, this is not unexpected given that people more prominent than Manana have gotten away with perpetrating even worse crimes against women and not much happened to them.

As we celebrate Women's Month, we need to remember the bad men who give all men a bad name.

These men make it difficult for us to celebrate women fully and freely because, as long as people like them are around, women will always be in danger of assault or worse. If Manana does not want to be seen to be one of those men, he should have done the right thing. He should have faced the consequences of his action, handed himself over for arrest and resigned from his position in government. Oh, I forgot, we don't do that in South Africa.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 12 August 2017)

It will help opposition if Zuma remains in power

THERE is a view that has gained currency in many circles in recent weeks, that politics in South Africa will be significantly different after Tuesday's vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, especially if the vote is being held in secret. Some people believe a secret vote against the president will generate a majority.

I hate to disappoint the eternal optimists, but this is not about to happen. Apart from those who have already made their views known, I don't see many other ANC MPs going against the party line.

The malaise in the ANC is much bigger than one person and removing one person will not make a significant difference. This is one thing, surely, on which the ANC and the opposition agree.

What the vote of confidence does - as have the six or seven previous ones - is to present the opposition with a wonderful opportunity to tell voters and potential voters where the ANC has failed and where they would be able to do a better job, if they should be voted into power.

While those in the opposition to the ANC’s current leadership - and they include many ANC members - are hoping to convince some ANC MPs to vote against the president, the official opposition (the DA) and their allies, the EFF, must be quietly hoping they will fail.

After all, Zuma is the opposition's most potent weapon and it would not serve their purpose to remove him at this point, because it would give the ANC at least a year and a bit to recover some of the ground it has lost.

It will be much more difficult for the opposition to campaign against an ANC under a new leadership which promises clean governance, an end to corruption and improved living conditions for the majority of South Africans.

I know the ANC has always promised this, from the time of the “better life for all” slogan in 1994, but South Africans, desperate for any hope, might just believe a new ANC leadership, even in the interim, would be able to deliver. They might be persuaded to make their crosses next to the party's logo in 2019.

But politics is all about using your opportunities to exploit your enemy's weaknesses and to mobilise.

The current ANC is perceived to be weak, so they present a good opportunity to the opposition, one which they have gladly grabbed with both hands.

We have already seen the DA presenting the office of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with what they say are a million signatures from South Africans asking him and other ANC MPs to vote against the president in the motion of no confidence.

Mobilisation is also going on frenetically behind the scenes to ensure that there are several protests over the next few days, culminating in a huge march to Parliament ahead of Tuesday's vote.

The ANC, which used to have a monopoly on mass protests in the old days, have responded by calling a march of their own - in support of the president. Good on them, the opposition can't have all the fun.

But, seriously, whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, our democracy is in good shape.

When we voted for the first time in democratic elections in 1994, many of us who had been involved in the Struggle, thought that this would in future be our only contribution to democracy.

We would go and vote every couple of years and, hopefully, the party which we voted into power, would make sure that the lives of South Africans improve.

After all, our opposition to apartheid meant that we wanted a society where the majority would be able to improve their lives through equal access to job opportunities, better education, health care, housing, etcetera.

We had a blind belief that the ANC, because of its record in opposing apartheid, would do a good job of changing the lives of South Africans in a meaningful way. As time went by, we realised your political pedigree and Struggle credentials do not necessarily translate into a desire to improve people's lives, except your own.

Democracy is so much more than exercising your vote. Democracy means getting involved in organisations and forums where decisions are made about your community and society in general. Democracy means that, if you see bad behaviour by politicians, you should let them know about it and warn them that they are not guaranteed your vote the next time.

I am so excited about what is happening in politics. Ordinary people are saying they want their voices to be heard beyond making a cross at election time.

The likelihood is those in power will not listen immediately - and the president will remain in power - and that is why the pressure needs to continue, ultimately impacting on where we put our mark in the next election.

Not much will change politically after Tuesday, but this is not necessarily bad. It provides more opportunities to engage on the nature of our democracy and what we expect from our political leaders. It is not about what we expect from Zuma, but from all political leaders, including those in the opposition.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argust on Saturday 5 August 2017)

When the music's over, a family's suffering starts

THE most poignant moment of the musical tribute to the late guitar legend Errol Dyers was not a musical one. Instead, it was an impassioned call by guitarist-singer Tina Schouw for musicians to stop complaining and start taking matters into their own hands.

“We need to join associations and we need to fill in our performance sheets and send it to Samro (Southern African Music Rights Organisation) so that we can claim some money from them,” she said in between performing two songs in honour of the man whom she described as an elder brother who looked after her as a young musician. Samro is the organisation that manages copyright issues in the music industry.

Schouw was one of many top Cape Town musicians who either performed or were in the audience at a packed Kaleidoscope church/jazz venue in Claremont Main Road.

The place belongs to pastor Glenn Robertson, who also happens to be a veteran singer on the Cape jazz scene. That’s why it is church on Sunday morning, and a jazz club most of the other time. On Wednesday night, there were other calls for people to treasure our musicians a lot more but these were mainly from people representing associations performing various duties related to musicians. Schouw’s call was the only one from a musician. Most of the other musicians preferred to pay their tributes in the way that they know best: through music.

The evening was more of a jam session, with bands being made up on the spot and musicians lending each other their instruments.

We left just before midnight, with Hilton Schilder and his band performing, so I have no idea what time it ended. But Hilton did promise to play “maybe one, maybe two or maybe seven songs”. It was that kind of evening.

Earlier, a collaboration between Afrikaaps’ rapper Quintin “Jitsvinger” Goliath ended in partial disarray (but in a nice way) when the band that accompanied him, led by veteran pianist Mervin Africa and featuring a solo by Tony Cedras, decided to do their own thing and left the gifted rapper lost for words, for once.

Music is, of course, the best way to pay tribute to a fallen musician. But even musicians cannot live on music alone. Yes, musicians do not make a lot of money, but at least it’s sometimes enough to put bread and milk on the table and to keep the lights on. When this is taken away, families are often left destitute.

At the Dyers’s memorial, people who attended were expected to make donations, which were given to the family. According to Robertson, more than R12000 was raised in cash, but there were also bank transfers. On top of this, Robertson said, they had raised more than R32000 at a previous fundraiser and one of the trustees of the African Musicians Trust (which he heads) had paid R17000 for a painting and this money was handed to Dyers’s wife, Virginia.

“I just wish we could have bought Errol an oxygen machine. Maybe he would have still been alive,” said Robertson. Dyers died last Friday of emphysema. He was aged 65.

He was considered one of the masters of Cape jazz, a unique sound that has become popular over the past two decades or so. He released several albums and, from all accounts, was a prolific composer, not only of jazz music but also rock and pop. Dyers is to be laid to rest after a funeral service at the Good Hope Christian Centre in Ottery at 10am today.

I always wonder what happens to families after the funeral, when everyone has paid their last respects and gone home. This is when the real pain starts and the reality kicks in that your loved one is gone. When this is compounded by a sense of knowing this is the beginning of financial insecurity, it makes the situation even worse. For more than 30 years, I have heard the same story: musicians need to get together, to fight for their rights, they need funeral benefits, medical aid and a union.

There is something wrong with a society that derives so much pleasure from the work of musicians, but then allows them to die in poverty. If it is not the case with Errol Dyers, it will be the exception, not the rule. May he rest in peace.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 29 July 2017)

Madiba's legacy needs much more than 67 minutes

IN THE week that we celebrated what would have been the 99th birthday of former President Nelson Mandela, I found myself wondering about the hypocrisy of many people who believe all they need to do is dedicate themselves to do good for 67 minutes every year.

The rest of the time they continue with their lives, hardly thinking about how to make a difference and bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our radically divided society.

There are also people who try to tell us about how we should emulate Mandela when they themselves don’t do so. Chief among these are politicians who spend most of their time undermining Mandela’s legacy but, on 18 July every year, they suddenly remember what made the man great.

In many ways, it is not Mandela’s political values which endeared him to South Africans, but rather his humanity and humility, something which modern-day politicians seem to lack.

I have never believed in doing anything for 67 minutes. I have always believed that goodness is not something that you can switch on and then switch off 67 minutes later. Goodness is something that should become part of who and what you are. It should become part of your DNA.

I am not trying to dismiss the good work done by many people throughout South Africa because, in many cases, it did make a difference to the people who benefited.

The point I am trying to make is that you should not display a badge for doing good for 67 minutes when you do otherwise the rest of the time. I also worry about big corporates who get their staff to perform certain good deeds and then they expect to be applauded for it. If you are going to be true to Mandela’s legacy, then you will do good because it is what needs to be done, and not because somebody is going to write something nice about you in the newspaper or take a photo of your activity.

I have seen a few companies asking their staff to make contributions, which the company then contributes to some charity on their behalf. Surely the point is about making contributions yourself, so what is the point of getting your staff to do the work and then you claim the credit?

I have also seen politicians cleaning up a street in a township and then getting into their fancy cars to go to a fancy lunch for VIPs only.

The other thing that irritates me immensely when it comes to the topic of Nelson Mandela is about who owns his legacy. Like most people who grew up in the struggle, I agree that Mandela was, first and foremost, a loyal ANC member and made his contribution to society in that capacity. But the impact of what he did for surpassed the ANC. In many ways, Mandela became bigger than the political party that he represented.

Whether we like it or not, Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, including those who never voted for him but felt inspired by him. He embraced people who differed from him politically and, in some cases, won them over.

In any case, poor people do not ask for the political credentials of those who help them. In most cases, they are just glad to be helped. This is why sometimes you see people wearing the T-shirts of political parties without necessarily being loyal to that party. They were just glad to get a T-shirt that could keep the cold away.

I try not to do anything special for Mandela Day. I believe that whatever I do, whether it is work-related or personal, I should do it in the spirt exemplified by somebody like Madiba. I was not about to start counting the minutes when I did good and then switch off after 67. For me, it is important to do good all the time.

South Africa is in a difficult space at the moment. We are beginning to see the effects of the recession and the downgrades. We are clobbered daily by allegations of corruption, mainly involving government.

Part of what people like me do is to make sure that people are informed of what is wrong in our society, in the hope that we can use these lessons to improve the situation. It is not something that starts and ends at any point, and not everybody considers it to be good.

The ANC has made much noise about celebrating the 100th birthday of former ANC president Oliver Tambo this year. I would hope that they would do the same for Madiba next year. But more than that, I hope that they do not wait for next year to understand the lessons of Madiba’s leadership. They should interrogate it now already. Maybe it will help them understand the problems in our society better and provide them with the tools to deal with them.

After all, Mandela never put politics ahead of people, something which our politicians do not seem to understand nowadays. Let’s live Mandela’s legacy and not just for 67 minutes every year.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 22 July 2017)

People should hear tributes while they are still alive

MANY years ago, I interviewed Ray Chipaka Phiri after the release of one of his albums. One of the songs was dedicated to this father. He explained that his father, who was a mineworker of Malawian descent, always had a smile on his face. He had asked his father why, when he was so oppressed, he always managed to smile. His father explained that smiling and laughing was the only way to deal with his oppression.

“If I think about my oppression all the time, I would go through life depressed. I prefer to be happy,” Phiri quoted his father as saying.

When I heard this week that Phiri had passed away at the age of 70 after succumbing to lung cancer, I thought about this discussion we had in Bantry Bay, overlooking the sea, and how humble and approachable this talented genius had been. At that time, he had already achieved so much, having travelled the world with Paul Simon’s Graceland tour and having had huge success with Stimela, one of South Africa’s best bands ever.

But I also found myself thinking about the many friends and comrades who had passed away in the past few years and the things that I will always remember of all of them.

Death has a way of catching up on all of us but, when it happens, those of us who are left behind, are still surprised.

Last Saturday, we were sitting in St Georges Cathedral at the funeral service for Ronald Bernickow, popularly known as Berni, a former colleague and comrade who had passed away about two weeks earlier.

We all knew that Berni had contracted cancer years ago and we followed his progress with interest. It would not be unusual to hear that he was in and out of hospital or had suffered another setback. But every time he seemed to recover and continue his public service, which he did until the end.

I thought nothing about it when I bumped into Berni’s wife, Lorna, in our local supermarket a month or so ago and she told me that he was going through a tough time health-wise. When I had last seen him a few weeks before then, he had looked reasonably healthy.

Because he knew his time on earth was limited, Berni planned certain parts of his send-off, leaving notes for some people and even ordering his friends to celebrate his life and not mourn his passing by drinking all his leftover alcohol.

He had been given a few months to live 10 years ago, but never stopped living and giving until he could not continue anymore. One of the lessons, I suppose, I will take from Berni’s life is to live life to the full and to never stop giving.

Listening to people giving tribute to Ray Phiri over the past few days, I suppose one could say the same about him. He never wanted to stop being active and helping where he could. And, of course, performing.

At Berni’s funeral service, which went on for a long time because of the number of people who wanted to pay tribute, I found myself thinking about what I would want people to say about me when I have passed on. I realised that, while I have no intention of dying anytime soon, I suppose it is something that I would have no control over.

I have this dream of dying and watching people pay tribute to me while they are not able to see me. In my dream, I find myself asking whether I am at the right funeral because I cannot believe some of the things that people are saying about me.

I understand the notion of paying tribute to people once they have passed away. In many ways, it is also a way of finding closure for the people who are left behind. “We have given you a good send-off. Now we can get on with our lives.” Unfortunately, when everybody has left, the family is often left alone to deal with their grief.

But sometimes it is important to pay tribute to people while they are alive. It is not good enough to tell someone how much you loved them when their coffin is lying in front of you. They should have heard it often while they were alive.

One of the things that I have requested from my family and friends is that the people who speak at my funeral or memorial service should be people who know me and they should be able to speak about my values, my hopes and my dreams. I do not want politicians to speak, unless they are people who knew me genuinely.

We only die once so it is important to make sure that our final send-off is done properly. Unlike Ray Phiri’s father, I struggle to go through life smiling, because I get angered my injustice and inequality very easily. And unlike Berni, I will properly not leave notes for all my family and friends. But I hope that, like them, I will be able to leave a legacy that makes my family proud. For now, let me go on living.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 15 July 2017)

Public support best protection for press freedom

AS A YOUNG journalist living in Hanover Park many years ago, it was always difficult to write stories about my community. Part of the problem was that you knew almost everyone you would write about and, in cases where stories were not complimentary, it was easy for them to track you down and confront you about it.

Once, I did a story about the goings-on at one of the local high schools in which a certain SRC member came off badly. The next day, he arrived at our house in Solent Court with his mother, demanding I publish an apology. My mother took exception to these people bringing their problems with my professional conduct into our house, but I managed to speak to them and, after I explained the story, they left without expecting an apology.

The mother's biggest problem, it appears, was the humiliation of seeing her son's face on the front page of the newspaper. She had not bothered to read the article.

Listening to the ANC once again raising the spectre of regulation of the media at their national policy conference this week and, after the incidents at the homes of respected newspaper editors last week, got me thinking about this incident of years ago. I asked myself how much had changed in the decades since then.

I suppose it must be difficult to be a politician or a senior employee at a state-owned entity at the moment, waking up every morning not knowing whether you'll be the story based on e-mails you happened to have sent to a politically connected family, asking for favours.

Whenever politicians realise that they could potentially be embarrassed by revelations in the media, they start talking about media regulation.

When I taught media relations to senior people in the government and corporates, I told them that, if they did not want their dirty linen to be aired in public, then they should not dirty their linen.

What this means is that, if you have done wrong, you should expect the media to pick this up, sooner or later.

Throughout history, and throughout the world, journalists and politicians have always had a strange relationship.

Politicians like journalists to write stories about the good things that they do, but they always take exception when journalists point out bad things.

But politicians need journalists as much as journalists need them.

Politicians need to develop a thick skin and learn to live with a vibrant media that carries out thorough investigations. This is one of the lessons that they could learn from democratic South Africa's first president, Nelson Mandela, who knew how to manipulate the media in a positive way to achieve the objectives of his government and political party.

Mandela, who had an elephant's memory for names, always greeted journalists by their first names and knew personal things about them, such as if they'd recently had a baby or acquired a dog. He realised the best way to handle journalists was to engage with them, showing he was a human being and then maybe they would start reporting on him like a human being.

I remember how he would call cartoonists to ask them to send him copies of cartoons which could have been considered derogatory. But he was also not shy to point out mistakes to journalists and would often call editors early in the morning.

The intolerance that has been shown from certain quarters to journalists - and I refuse to name them because they have received more than enough publicity already - should not be allowed to continue. There are platforms on which to engage with journalists and that does not include visiting them at their homes and threatening them and their families.

Politicians will soon discover journalists are a strange breed, in that we will vigorously defend each other's right to practise our craft. We have realised that, if you allow attacks on one journalist, without defending his/her rights, you will soon have attacks on other journalists whose views might be closer to yours.

I believe we must have as many views as possible expressed in the media. It is important to know what right-wingers are thinking, just as it is important to know what left-wingers are thinking.

Ultimately, most journalists are driven by a desire to bring the truth to the public. Journalists are, in the main, loyal to their profession and to the public they serve. This includes their readers, listeners or viewers. Politicians and political parties quite often do not form part of this public or community.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I am not yet too concerned about threats to the media, even though last week’s invasion of private homes could be considered a new low.

But we need to remain vigilant and we need to make sure that we always have the support and confidence of the public. The public needs to know and understand that any attack on media freedom is an attack on their freedom. This protection, by the public, is probably the best protection anyone in the media industry could enjoy.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 8 July 2017)

Hani's ideals would've made him an ideal leader

Chris Hani would have been upset at how legitimate demands and political slogans are being used to promote the interests of a faction in the ANC.

Chris Hani would have turned 75 this week. It is an event that passed without any fanfare but it would have been an appropriate opportunity for our political leaders to reflect on Hani’s values and his commitment to the struggle for the liberation of all South Africans. We should not only commemorate death but also celebrate life.

Two of Hani’s contemporaries in the Struggle, became presidents of South Africa. Thabo Mbeki, who turned 75 on June 18, was president from June 14, 1999 until September 2008, while Jacob Zuma, who turned 75 on April 12, was president since 2009, having been re-elected for a second term in 2014. 

There are many who believe the SA Communist Party leader would probably also have become president of the ANC and the country if his life was not cut short by a right-wing assassin on April 10, 1993, just over a year before South Africans voted in our first democratic elections. 

Other contemporaries who are roughly the same age include Pallo Jordan, who turned 75 on May 22, and Mavuso Msimang, who will turn 76 on October 19. 

It is interesting to look at this group to see how things turned out differently for men who were the best of comrades during their years in the Struggle. 

Hani was deprived of an opportunity to accomplish greatness in South Africa, Mbeki went on to tarnish his good name as president, due to some bad decisions and misguided loyalties, but this was nothing compared to what Zuma has “achieved” as president. Some of his critics blame Zuma for the demise of the ANC and warn that the party may lose the 2019 elections if there is a perception Zuma is still in control, even if not as president of the ANC. There are even people who want Mbeki to make a comeback. They have obviously forgotten the criticism they bestowed on him when he was Number 1.

Jordan went into hiding after his lack of a doctorate was exposed, while Msimang surfaced as one of Zuma’s most vocal critics, part of the group of ANC stalwarts, demanding leadership change in the organisation. 

Leadership will be top of mind for everyone at the ANC’s policy conference this weekend, although, officially, ANC members are not meant to discuss this publicly. 

It is difficult to speculate what Hani would have said about the current state of national politics but, I suspect, his views would probably have been closer to Msimang’s. Hani was committed to the ANC, led by Oliver Tambo, who would have turned 100 in October this year, and would have been upset at how legitimate demands and political slogans were debased as they are now used to promote the interests of a faction in the ANC.

Whether this faction is truly committed to tackling white monopoly capital and radically transform the economy, is debatable. 

Because this faction appears to have taken ownership of these terms, others are not engaging with them meaningfully, leading to a situation where nobody is taking the transformation of our economy, and our society, seriously. 

Talk of transformation, so far, has only been hot air. If we had proper transformation in our society, and particularly our economy, we would not see headlines about the huge gap between the earnings of South African chief executives compared to what they pay workers. According to a report this week, some chief executives earn up to 500 times more than the lowest paid workers in their companies.

I have no problem with chief executives earning huge salaries, but it must be reward for good work and they must lead in a way which empowers their staff. The best leaders are not those who try to accrue capital and benefits only for themselves, but those who believe that sharing in a more equitable manner with their workers will lead to a situation where everyone will earn more. There are some people in South Africa who still have misguided notions of the communism espoused by people like Hani. They focus unnecessarily on the notion of communists being non-believers.

I would like to think that someone like Hani believed in humanity, equality and justice, and that is good enough for me. I will gladly take a pro-poor non-believer over an oppressive believer any day. There are some good non-believers in the same way as there are bad believers (just think about apartheid). Ultimately, we should judge people on their actions as opposed to their words.

Let’s celebrate Hani’s life but let us also commit ourselves to creating a society where everyone will be treated as roughly equal. I don’t think that is communism. It is just doing what is right.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 1 July 2017)

Aunty Hilda was a hero, and should be honoured

THE name Hilda Paulsen is not as well-known as many as that of many others who contributed to the struggle for democracy. But to many people who lived in Mitchells Plain, and particularly Eastridge, in the 1980s, she was a hero who dedicated her life to improving the lives of people around her.

(Please note that I use the word hero because I do not believe there should be gender distinctions for bravery.)

Mrs Paulsen, as we all knew her, lived in Eastridge and was my main contact person in the area when I was sent to organise the community in the early 1980s. Her small house became our head-quarters where all pamphlets and Grassroots community newspaper copies were delivered before we gave them out door to door.

She represented the area on all kind of committees, such as the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee and the structures of the United Democratic Front. She was one of the many ordinary working-class people who dedicated their time and energy to helping us overcome apartheid by engaging in community campaigns for lower rent and electricity payments, for a hospital in Mitchells Plain, and supporting worker and student struggles.

Her daughter, Marlene, was as involved as her while her son, who later converted to Islam and became known as Mogamad Nazier, was at high school and an interested observer of what we were doing. I would like to believe that he drew some inspiration from the activities of his mother and sister which inspired his later involvement in community organisations and finally the Economic Freedom Fighters, which he now represents in Parliament.

I moved out of Mitchells Plain in the early 1990s – to Durban and Johannesburg – and lost touch with many of the people in Mitchells Plain. Mrs Paulse had also moved out to Crawford, which is around the corner from where I now live.

I can’t recall the last time I saw Mrs Paulsen, but I bumped into Marlene a few times, the most recent being at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and she asked me when I was going to visit her mother. She told me that her mother had become blind but would definitely recognise my voice. I promised I would visit soon, but kept on delaying it, mainly because of my work and travel schedule. But I kept on saying to my wife that I needed to visit Mrs Paulsen.

On Wednesday this week, I heard that Mrs Paulsen had passed away. She was 82. I never kept my promise to visit her and I could not go and see the family immediately because I am up in Gauteng until the end of this week.

On Monday, I received a call from another woman who lives in Eastridge and she told me about how the creche in Leadwood Road, where we often held community meetings, had fallen into disrepair. She asked me to see whether there was anyone in my corporate network who would be prepared to assist them with funding because otherwise the creche would have to close. She pointed out that she does not get paid to work at the creche.

I thought about Mrs Paulse then and, if I had been in Cape Town, I would probably have gone to visit her immediately. But I also thought about the structures we had set up in the 1980s and the people who were involved. Many of these people are now despondent that the future we thought we were building has not been realised.

Some, like Willie Simmers, continues to make a difference in Mitchells Plain through the Mitchells Plain Advice Office, which has also been struggling to make ends meet for many years. Willie is now in his late seventies and, as far as I know, still volunteers his services to the advice office.

From time to time, we bump into former activists at funerals or memorial services. Many of them no longer find themselves in the ANC, which would have been their natural home after their time in the UDF in the 1980s. The energy levels might no longer be there, but their commitment remains to make our country different to the one in which we grew up.

Most of them, like Hilda Paulsen, have not been acknowledged for their contribution and have never asked for any acknowledgement. The only thing many would have wanted was for our country to be close to what we thought it was becoming: a non-racial, non-sexist democracy in which everyone would have equal access to education, housing, health, justice and employment opportunities, among others.

They would have wanted to play with their grandchildren knowing that South Africa now offered much greater opportunities to them.

Unfortunately, while South Africa today is very different to what we went through under apartheid, there still remains a lot of work to be done to get us even close to what we thought we were fighting for. Yes, it is up to the young people to take the struggle forward, but we cannot afford to let people like Hilda Paulsen pass on without us tapping into their wisdom.

I regret not having the opportunity to see Aunty Hilda in her final years, but I know that she will forgive me. After all, forgiveness is one of the key lessons we have learnt in the struggle in order for us to move forward. But I would have loved to ask her what she thought about the situation in our country and what needed to be done.

Rest in peace, dear comrade. Your journey has not been in vain.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 24 June 2017)