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Stay calm and endure, even when everything is against you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shenanigans of owners nullified journalists’ work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful aspect of soccer is it brings people together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is nothing to celebrate about winning a Plate final.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for youth from sacrifices and celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't allow history to be rewritten by opportunists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport renaming an opportunity to honour Cape Town's heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism is alive and kicking and must be tackled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

African unity is vital to our country's prosperity

Next Friday is Africa Day, originally meant to mark the formation of the Organisation of Africa Union in 1963, when several African countries celebrated their independence from their colonisers and oppressors.

The OAU was replaced by the African Union in the early 2000s but Africa Day has remained and now serves as an opportunity for us to examine our African identity and the ways in which we act in solidarity (or not) with each other despite where we are located on the continent.

Celebrating Africa Day becomes especially important in a country like South Africa where most people have been insulated from the rest of the continent in the years of apartheid and feel threatened by the influx of fellow Africans since we became a democracy in 1994.

This has led to xenophobia in some communities where residents, struggling with their own economic realities, see people from other African countries as competition for jobs and economic wealth.

But while we might have been insulated from the rest of the continent during the apartheid years, the rest of the continent was not isolated from us.

Several African countries opened their borders and homes to political refugees from South Africa and created opportunities for study and military training for operatives from the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, the two main liberation organisations.

These countries often did this at great risk to themselves and their own sovereignty, especially countries close to South Africa which the apartheid army could raid in search of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and African People’s Liberation Army (APLA) operatives.

Nelson Mandela was aware of the important contribution that other African countries made to our liberation and made good relations with the other countries on the continent an important part of his government’s foreign affairs policies. Thabo Mbeki understood this too and tried to build on the good work started by Madiba.

In recent years, however, much of that work has been done by a government who has been unable to understand history, geography or economics.

History tells us that we have to act in solidarity with other African countries. They have walked the long walk to freedom with us and we should at the very least treat them with dignity and respect.

Geography tells us that if one African country suffers, we are all bound to suffer because we are so close to each other. We cannot prosper as South Africa if our neighbours are suffering.

In this regard, we can learn the lessons from the Zimbabwean implosion and the effect that it had on South Africa, with many Zimbabweans fleeing their country and looking for a better life down south.

For those who tend to disregard history and geography but who listen to economics, it does not make sense to want to grow the South African economy as if we are not part of the African continent.

We need to look at how we can maximise the economic power of all the people on the continent, as opposed to just the few million in South Africa. One of the reasons China and India are taken seriously in economic terms is because they have the population size that need to be taken seriously. South Africa’s 55-odd million population, many without real economic power, pales in comparison to the billions of people to be found in India and China.

There are some South African businesses who have seen the potential on the continent and have found ways to exploit it, but this is still the exception and not the rule.

However, exploiting the potential of the continent should not be about getting as much out of the situation as you can. Instead it should be about forging partnerships which are mutually beneficial.

Business can play a role in trying to maximise the economic potential of African unity, but our political leadership will have to ensure that the citizens understand the importance of working with and learning from others who live on our continent and whose experience could be worth learning from.

It is in no one’s interests, including short-sighted politicians, to exploit the uncertainties that exist in many communities with regards to the presence of people from other African countries. It starts with accepting our own African identities. Ultimately, it is better to build African unity than to try and destroy it.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 19 May 2018)

Gnashing of teeth as De Lille puts DA on back foot

Among all the drama unfolding in the ANC (Supra Mahumapelo in North West) and the DA (Patricia de Lille in Cape Town), there was some good news this week when former head of security in Parliament, Zelda Holtzman, settled with the House and withdrew her claim in the CCMA.

In exchange, Parliament withdrew disciplinary charges against her, as well as the letter dismissing her. They also agreed to pay her until the end of her contract, a total of eight months. Throughout her fight with Parliament, Holtzman had insisted she was being victimised for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in Parliament.

The fact that Parliament was prepared to settle is an indication there must have been merit in Holtzman’s claims.

While one can understand the eagerness of Parliament and Holtzman to settle, there is a sense of being deprived of the truth. Holtzman’s claims will remain untested and Parliament will not have an opportunity to state its case.

This desire for the truth to come out is probably what has been driving (former) Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille in her fight with the DA, the party she was supposed to represent in the city.

(The reason I have put former in brackets is because De Lille might have been reinstated in her position by the courts in between the time I wrote this column, and its publication. Such has been the twist and turns in this saga.)

De Lille has been like a nasty cold that refuses to go away for the DA, the kind of cold that will infect many people as winter sets in over the next few weeks.

But it has been good she has refused to go away, and insisted on clearing her name.

I have always been fascinated by politicians and other public figures who fall from grace and then put up spirited fights to clear their names.

One can think of many people here, but the name that comes to mind first is Brian Molefe. The more he tried to clear his name, the more he ended up digging himself deeper into a hole.

This has not been the case with De Lille. And the DA, in their desperation to get rid of her, finally used a virtually unknown clause in their constitution to show her the door. They were hoping that by removing her DA membership - not so much the mayoral chains - she would finally shut up and allow them to continue with their business, like President Cyril Ramaphosa expected from one of their MPs during question time this week.

But De Lille has refused to accept this and made another challenge in the court to invalidate their decision to withdraw her membership of the party.

I spoke to her briefly at a function last week, and she reiterated that it was not about being mayor or being a member of the DA. It was all about clearing her name that she has built up through struggle and determination over many years, including blowing the whistle on the arms deal at a time when many others were keeping quiet.

She said she has always enjoyed a good fight.

I sincerely hope De Lille does not settle out of court with the DA, and that she does not give up.

After the fight that she has put up so far, she owes it to all of us - like she has continuously said - to ventilate the charges against her in public and refute them, so that all of us can see if she is vindicated.

This will be the only way in which she will then be able to move forwards to whatever she decides is next, whether this is to join the ANC or the EFF or form her own party, or become an academic or a serial board member, like so many former politicians.

There must be some merit in De Lille’s insistence on the charges being discussed in public, and the DA has certainly made us sceptical about their real reasons for wanting to remove a woman who their leader, Mmusi Maimane, praised as recently as 2016 as someone who “has brought a great contribution to South African politics”.

Maimane said this in support of De Lille’s decision to stand for a second term as mayor of Cape Town.

No matter how the De Lille matter is finally resolved, by the courts or common sense, the damage done to the DA will be felt for a long time. The way the party has handled this matter has confirmed in the minds of many that it is still a white-controlled party with no place for strong, black and independent-minded women.

It will be interesting to see whether other parties, especially the ANC, will be able to capitalise on the DA’s many mishaps on this issue. It will be equally interesting to see where De Lille decides her future lies.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 12 May 2018)

Cries of the desperate must be heard, not ignored

Violent protests are not new in South Africa.

While it has the potential to make many people - especially those in the middle class - feel uncomfortable, it is often the only resort of people whose voices are continuously overlooked. Most of these people are not fortunate to be part of the middle class.

No one likes violence, including the people who resort to it, often in desperation. Try to place yourself in the situation of someone who lives in an area that has never known what proper service delivery is.

An area with low employment, bad housing, bad sanitation, bad schools, bad roads, bad everything.

An area where appeals to the authorities always appear to fall on deaf ears.

It is only when the victims of everything bad decide to do something bad about their plight - by burning tyres, cars or buildings - that the authorities start to pay attention.

I have never condoned violence, not even when we were trying to overthrow the apartheid regime.

But I have always tried to understand what drove normally non-violent people to engage in violent behaviour, especially during protests.

Why is it that marginalised people are only taken seriously when they resort to violence?

There is something wrong with a society that allows people’s frustrations to build up to such an extent that they see no alternative but to react violently in order to attract the attention of the authorities who have the power to intervene in their situation.

At any given time there are many protests throughout South Africa.

Not all of them turn violent, but the violent ones seem to attract the most attention.

President Cyril Ramaphosa even cut short his trip to the UK a few weeks ago, to attend to violent protests against the Premier of the North West province.

Last week, trucks were burnt down near Mooi River on the N3 by drivers who protested against losing their jobs to foreigners.

This week, we have seen violent protests in Macassar and outside Mitchells Plain by residents of Siqalo informal settlement who have been desperately trying to draw the attention of the authorities to their plight.

I might not agree with the reasons for the protests or the methods employed but I am trying hard to understand how the violence came about and how it escalated out of control.

My family were among those affected by the Mitchells Plain protests on Wednesday night and we were delayed on the N2 on Tuesday because of the Macassar protests.

At some point it became pure racial warfare between the protesters from the Siqalo informal settlement and residents of Woodlands and Colorado, the Mitchells Plain suburbs closest to the area who wanted to stop them.

It is easy to say that people should not resort to violence, and that would be possible under normal circumstances, but we still have abnormal circumstances throughout our country.

Often, the people involved in violent protests are ordinary mothers and fathers who just want to give their children the best, like everyone else in society.

They do not wake up with the intention of committing violent crimes and do not set out to act violently. But when your voice is ignored time after time, then something else happens to your psyche. Something tells you that, unless you use violence, no one is going to listen.

The only way to deal with the unhappiness that is prevalent in many parts of our society, is for the authorities to show that they are really prepared to listen to grievances, even if they are not able to deal with these immediately.

People must know that their voices are being heard. They must know that when they raise issues peacefully, they are not ignored.

We cannot afford to encourage a situation where the concerns of ordinary people are only heard and dealt with after they turn violent.

That is too late, because by that time the damage has already been done. The TV cameras have already shown the world the pictures of a people who know no other way of protesting but through violence.

There has been much talk of a ‘New Dawn’, since the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa. But the New Dawn will mean nothing if it is not accompanied by a willingness to really listen and act on the concerns of people who are normally ignored by authorities.

In my experience, most South Africans are peace loving. None of us should ever be placed in a situation where we feel that the only way to achieve what we want is through violence.

This rule should apply as much to the residents of Siqalo as to the residents of Woodlands and Colorado.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 5 May 2018)

ANC needs to convince voters it deserves another shot

Politics in the Western Cape has always been interesting, but it looks like it will become even more fascinating over the next few months as we head towards the national elections scheduled for the middle of next year.

The ANC has shown its intentions with the appointment of former premier Ebrahim Rasool as the party’s election co-ordinator for 2019.

The DA appears to be caught up in internal politics, mainly revolving around the position of mayor Patricia de Lille, while the EFF is probably watching this with great interest and anticipation.

For the first time in a long time, it looks like the province is up for grabs, and whoever can convince the electorate that they can deliver “a better life for all” (to steal the ANC’s 1994 election campaign slogan) will surely walk away the victors.

From my interactions with Rasool over more than 30 years, he has always impressed me as someone who has the interests of the broader society at heart. He is someone who can think beyond the ANC, even though there is no questioning his loyalty to the party.

His “Home for All” campaign, which he ran as premier more than 10 years ago, indicated a willingness and understanding of the complexities of the Western Cape, where identity politics play a much more significant role than anywhere else in the country.

Part of the reason for this is probably the preponderance of people known as “coloureds” in the Western Cape, which is unlike any other province in South Africa.

Rasool also did remarkably well as South Africa’s ambassador to the US where he was based throughout Barack Obama’s terms in office.

By deploying Rasool to head up its election team for next year, the ANC is hoping to be able to convince Capetonians that it deserves another shot at ruling the city and the province.

They are also hoping that “Ramaphoria”, the excitement created for the party by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the party and the country, will rub off on the Western Cape.

The ANC is hoping to capitalise on the DA’s obsession with getting rid of the popular De Lille as mayor. None of the people who have been touted as replacements for De Lille, enjoy even half her popularity.

But politics has never been that clear cut and has never only been about personalities. This is especially the case in the Western Cape, where progressive intellectuals have struggled to understand the ANC’s difficulty in convincing the electorate to support the party, despite the apparent popular support for someone like Nelson Mandela.

There have been allegations of racism against those members of the “coloured” community who supported first the National Party and then the DA against the ANC, despite the role the ANC played in the liberation of all South Africans.

This is probably partly true, but voter choices could also be because of the perception among voters about who would be best-placed to deliver improvements in their lives and communities.

The ANC will have to convince the voters of the Western Cape that the Jacob Zuma era, which was punctuated by an elite enriching themselves at the expense of the majority, is truly over and that the new administration is focused on delivery.

The DA, being the incumbents in the province, has an advantage in that they can show concretely what they have and will deliver.

It does not help for the ANC to show what they have delivered in other provinces.

It will be interesting to see whether there will be any fall-out from the DA’s axing of De Lille, which the party appears determined to do.

However, there is no guarantee that people who supported De Lille until now will follow her wherever she decides to go. People appear to be more loyal to parties than to individuals.

Whoever wants to win the Western Cape will have to convince the majority of its residents - in this case the “coloured” community - that they have their best interests at heart.

Rasool will have to do this on behalf of the ANC, but his reassurances will have to be backed up by the people in government who will have to deliver on his promises.

Being chosen to be the ANC’s election co-ordinator in the Western Cape is, in many ways, a poisoned chalice. The ANC’s support in the province is at an all-time low and improving it marginally will not do much good.

It will require a superhuman effort by all involved to improve it to a level where it can matter.

If anyone is up to the challenge, then it is Rasool, who has proven himself over the years. But there is an argument to be made against recycling leaders and not blooding young leaders who would be more in touch with young voters who are, after all, the future.

It looks like the election campaign in the Western Cape will once again live up to expectations. It has never failed to provide much excitement in the past.

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

Youth is not wasted on the young, only on Malema

I have never believed in dampening the exuberance of youth. Throughout the world and throughout history the young have always expressed themselves more forcefully than older people and been in the vanguard of people seeking change, whether it was seeking to change capitalist societies into communist ones, or vice-versa, or wanting to change apartheid South Africa into a country that embraced non-racial democracy. 

This has helped me to understand people such as Julius Malema and his EFF, who speak mainly to a young constituency. I try to understand the real message they are conveying. 

Listening to Malema over the past few weeks and especially at Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service last week, it is clear that Malema is more interested in political point-scoring and satisfying the need (or rather want) of his constituency for soundbites and quotable quotes than in helping to build a united country. 

If that was what he set out to achieve, then his speech at the funeral was a success. He trended on social media for the past week with many people using #juliusmalemachallenge when they sought a “signal from Mama” about various issues, mainly flippant and not in keeping with the dignity of the occasion when he spoke the words.

Malema has also trended with his suggestion that Cape Town International Airport be renamed after Madikizela-Mandela. It would appear that Malema cleverly used inside information, that Transport Minister Blade Nzimande had asked for the airport in Cape Town to be renamed after Nelson Mandela, to throw a spanner in the ANC’s plans and steer the discussion in another direction. 

But there were two things that worried me about his speech. The one was the lack of acknowledgement of Jacob Zuma when he spoke about former presidents.

It was inappropriate and could have been better handled by him saying something like: “Out of respect for Mama Winnie, I will today even acknowledge Zuma as a former president, something I would not normally do.” He would have made his point as effectively. But to pretend the man was not there, as if he doesn’t exist, was childish and not becoming of a party which hopes to rule us some day.

The second thing that worried me about Malema’s speech was the mass exodus of EFF supporters, in their red T-shirts, immediately after their commander-in-chief spoke.

I could not help wondering whether this was a planned walkout and whether the EFF leadership was aware it was going to happen. It was a brilliant way of showing their support in the full glare of the TV cameras. 

One of the reasons, I believe, the EFF will struggle to win much more support than what they enjoy at the moment is because they are effectively a one-trick-pony party. They know how to oppose but they must still learn to build. They must learn that sometimes statesmanship works better than outright anger and opposition.

For the past 24 years, the ANC has had to learn the difference between being a resistance movement and a political party governing the country and most of its provinces. It has not been an easy lesson.

The EFF needs to learn that our democracy has many legs and each requires a different response. For instance, if you are a political party operating in Parliament that makes our legislation, then you should allow yourself to be subjected to this legislation and the courts that are trying to implement it.

I hold no brief for AfriForum and similar organisations, but they have the right to prosecute whoever they want. The law allows them to.

The fact that they are planning to bring a private prosecution against Malema for fraud and corruption is more of an indictment of our ineffective justice system which gives opportunists like AfriForum the chance to take matters into their own hands.

Malema’s response to the news that AfriForum is bringing a private prosecution against him has been to point out that a white organisation and private prosecutor were planning to prosecute a black man.

Malema tweeted on Thursday: “Bring it on bloody racists, you don’t scare me at all. I’m born ready!

No white man will decide my destiny, the poor masses of our people will.”

It was a predictable response from someone who markets himself as a firebrand. But maybe, in this case, his response should have been something about respecting the rule of law and the courts.

There are many people in my circles who are watching Malema eagerly because they are looking for an alternative to the ANC, especially after the past 10 years or so of craziness that beset Africa’s oldest liberation organisation.

Granted, we are not the EFF’s target market, but we do have votes and many of us do have a bit of influence.

We are looking for a signal from the EFF that they are worthy of support, but until they learn to move beyond exuberance, rhetoric and anger, it will be difficult to trust them to govern properly.

People in government need to be concerned about the entire population, even those who did not vote for them and I am not convinced that the EFF can do this.

I hope they will prove me wrong.

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

Honour our nation’s Mama by empowering others

While thousands of people converged on Orlando Stadium on Wednesday to pay tribute to Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, I was facilitating the Top Empowerment conference a few kilometres away. I knew where my heart was at that time, but my head needed to be somewhere else.

I consoled myself with the knowledge this was probably the best way to pay tribute to Mama Winnie, by talking about and interrogating something that was close to her heart.

Empowerment is about uplifting those who never had opportunities under apartheid and reducing inequality, poverty and unemployment in our special country. And South Africa is special. I don’t think many other nations have gone through so much pain and joy in one lifetime, sometimes at the same time.

As far as empowerment goes, it appears we are making progress, but the progress is not as fast as we expected. The one difference appears to be that more corporates are realising that empowerment is not something to fear, but something that should be embraced. At previous conferences on this topic, I always got a sense that most corporates attended because they were looking for ways in which to get away with doing as little as possible about black economic empowerment and employment equity, two of the pillars of empowerment.

But, as always, the personal reflections were special and none more so than the story of Marcia Mayaba, a dealer principal in the male-dominated motor industry.

Her story was no different, but also very different, to the story of many young women on the Cape Flats, even though she is originally from Orlando East, literally a stone’s throw away from where the memorial for Mama Winnie took place.

Mayaba was raised by her mother and had to drop out of university in order to raise her two younger sisters when her mother died of breast cancer in 1995. My older sisters were taken out of school by my mother when they were considered old enough to work. This meant that I was able to get an education at their expense.

Mayaba was nervous before delivering her presentation and blamed it partly on the fact that she was getting married on April 27, Freedom Day.

But when the nerves settled, she spoke passionately about an industry she loves. She encouraged more women to look for opportunities in the industry.

“I have lost count of how many times I was the first woman, or the first black woman in my career of more than 20 years. There are too few women, especially black women, in the motor industry. We need to kill gender bias in the industry,” she said.

Gender bias in the industry came to the forefront last week when chartered accountant Adila Chowan won her case against Imperial Holdings who, the North Gauteng High Court found, had impaired her dignity. Imperial’s chief executive, Mark Lamberti, was accused of referring to her as an “employment equity” candidate when she was overlooked for the position of chief financial officer.

This is part of a challenge Mayaba has faced most of her working life. But she said she was not prepared to rise to the top on her own. She wanted to take other women with her. There is no better definition of empowerment. It is about taking people with you on the journey to success. It is about sharing the wealth in our society so that most people can be uplifted.

As I listened to her, I found myself thinking about another woman whose story has inspired me in the past week. Ruschda O’Shea, who has been in education for more than 23 years, has just been appointed as the principal of San Souci Girls High School, “the first principal of colour” to have been appointed to this position, according to media reports.

The news brought a smile to my face - apart from the “first person of colour” bit which still irks me 24 years into our democracy - because I worked very closely with O’Shea almost 10 years ago when she was acting principal of Crystal High School in Hanover Park, where I completed my schooling.

I remember asking her at the time what the school needed and she said they needed a big pot which they could use to give learners soup once a week and uniforms for the netball team.

It was a small request, but it meant so much to the children at the school.

O’Shea left Crystal after the principal, who had been suspended, was reinstated. She became the principal of Tafelsig High School, where she remained for eight years and was a huge success, raising their matric pass rate to above 90%.

Her commitment to education has been rewarded by her appointment to a significantly better-resourced school.

I am happy about the success of Mayaba and O’Shea - from very different but similar backgrounds - but can’t help wondering when “the first woman” or “the first black woman” will no longer be news.

We need to move to a point where the appointment of competent women will be the norm and not the exception. And when they are appointed, they must receive all the support they deserve.

This is what true empowerment is about and this should be how we pay tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

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

Madikizela-Mandela’s death exposes a divided SA

This week should have been mainly about commemorating the birthday of the late legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela, or the 90th birthday of revered American poet and author, Dr Maya Angelou, who passed away almost four years ago, or the 50th anniversary of the assassination of American civil rights leader, Reverend Dr Martin Luther King.

Instead, the week has been dominated by the death at 81 of Struggle stalwart Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, considered by most South Africans as the mother of the nation.

The news of Madikizela-Mandela’s passing completely overshadowed the death of another amazing pioneering South African woman, Pam Golding, who took on the white male business establishment, against great odds, in the 1970s.

She went on to establish arguably the biggest real estate agency in the country, and one of the most successful internationally. Yes, it did help that she was white and that gave her access to certain opportunities under apartheid, but it still took guts to do what she did.

Madikizela-Mandela’s death also made us overlook the remarkable life of another great Cape Town woman, Faieza Desai, who passed away at the age of 51 last Friday. In her death, she defied traditional and sexist Muslim tradition when women were allowed at her graveside.

Women are not normally allowed at the graveside at Muslim funerals, even if the deceased was a woman. They normally have to wait at home and prepare food for the men when they return from the cemetery.

But in a week when the history and legacy of Madikizela-Mandela dominated the public discourse, it is important to think about the many other great women who have also contributed to our freedom, whether it was from apartheid or sexism.

It is not only women from Madikizela-Mandela’s generation. There are women who led the way before, and there are others who are still leading the way.

If the struggle against racism is far from over, then the struggle for gender equality has even further to go.

Often the contribution of women in society is tied to their relationship with men. In most cases, women only get recognised as the wife or partner of a man. I have frequently remarked on the sexism of the saying “behind ever successful man is a woman”, because it implies women must stand behind their men, not beside them and definitely not in front of them.

Like most South Africans, I was shocked when I heard the news about Madikizela-Mandela’s passing on Monday afternoon. But I have not been surprised by the vitriol spewed by mainly white South Africans, who always appear to be desperately looking for ways to denigrate the achievements of black South Africans.

I have given up on trying to understand the views of people who continually try to create a rift between Nelson Mandela and the people, and the organisation he always represented and served.

Many of the people who invoke Mandela’s name nowadays never voted for him when they had an opportunity, something they will conveniently not admit, just like the racists who voted for the apartheid regime will never admit that they did.

Some black people on social media have responded by vilifying the legacy of Golding and making racist comments on stories about her passing.

That is not helpful. In some ways, we are talking past each other.

If anything, Madikizela-Mandela’s death has once again shown up the deep divide that continues to exist in South Africa, almost 24 years into our democracy. We cannot move forward as a country unless we deal with the deep discomfort some of us feel towards others which surfaces at times like this.

I have always tried to explain the divisions in South Africa as based on the huge inequalities that exist in our society, but this week’s comments - from both blacks and whites - indicate that the divide is based on much more.

Even if we eradicate all the economic inequality in our society, we will still not have dealt with the psychological inequality, something that exists not only in South Africa but throughout the world.

There appears to be an impatience among many whites who feel that we should “move on” from our apartheid past. Instead of asking us to do that, they should try to understand the roots of our anger.

I believe I had a relatively easy life, even though I grew up very poor.

But I had my share of being denied opportunities because of my race; of experiencing police brutality; of being arrested and detained without warning and without reason; of having to pass by white beaches until we got to the worst one (which was reserved for blacks); of having to sit upstairs or at the back of buses because only white people could sit downstairs or in front, of watching my dad being called “boy” by white people young enough to be his children.

I’m sorry but if the white people who attacked Madikizela-Mandela so blatantly and viciously on social media this week want to be part of South Africa, they must try to understand our pain in order to understand our anger. If they refuse to do so, they might as well go live in Australia.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weeken Argus on Saturday 7 April 2018)

We assumed inherent racism would disappear

It is easy for anti-racists and non-racists to rejoice after the sentencing of former estate agent Vicki Momberg to an effective two-year prison sentence for racism, after she used the K-word repeatedly - 48 times - in her interaction with police officers and call centre agents after an alleged smash-and- grab incident outside Joburg in 2016.

Momberg had to pay for her crime - because racism is a crime and should be punished - and magistrate Pravina Rugoonandan needs to be commended for her ruling which will ensure that, for the first time in South Africa, someone will be jailed for uttering racist terms towards someone who might not look or sound like her.

Momberg is appealing the sentence but has already spent time in jail because her bail was revoked after sentencing.

It is a good moment for our democracy and will hopefully ensure racists - black or white - will think twice before using derogatory terms about others.

However, why do conditions still exist in our country that make it possible for racists to think they can easily get away with perpetuating racism, whether this be blatant or subtle.  

Surely, almost 24 years since we voted for the first time in democratic South Africa on April 27, 1994, we should have moved on to deal with racism in a more concerted manner?

And surely, when we embraced each other as part of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s favourite concept of a “rainbow nation”, we should have made a commitment to treat each other with dignity and respect, as the magistrate pointed out in her ruling this week.

The reality is that South Africa has not really dealt with the racism at the root of 300 years of colonialism and 50 years of apartheid. We believed that we could easily move on from a situation of severe repression and oppression to one in which we would all embrace each other unconditionally.

Behind any acts of racism is a belief of superiority, based on perceived differences. This is why it is more likely to find white racists than black racists, but this does not mean black racists do not exist.

As whites are likely to have privilege, not only in South Africa but also in most parts of the world, it stands to reason racism would emanate mainly from whites.

When we became a democracy, many South Africans tried to put the past behind us without interrogating the reasons we had that past.

We never looked at the factors that allowed white supremacists to rule our country so long, despite them being a minority.

We never looked at how we could repair the damage done by centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid.

We never looked at how we could prevent a similar situation from occurring in future.

We assumed because legalised racism was something of the past, inherent racism would also be.

But the many incidents of racism prevalent in our society - and the Momberg one is but the tip of the iceberg - show we cannot relax and pretend everything is okay in ubuntu South Africa.

The first step towards dealing with racism is to admit it is a problem. Yes, we can legislate and even imprison a few people, but that will never be enough to deal with the problem at a much greater level.

We have legislation against so many things, but that does not seem to have much impact in a society where many people seem to take risks and get away with criminal activity, because they don’t get caught and, if they do get caught, they do not get convicted.

The Momberg incident would probably also not have had this conclusion if the whole incident was not video-recorded and shared on social media.

Momberg would probably just have put this down to a stressful experience and moved on with her life. She would probably have thought nothing about using the K-word again afterwards.

Racism is often based on ignorance - because those who perpetuate racism do not know enough about people who they perceive to be different to them - and the best way to deal with ignorance is through education.

We need to have continuous conversations throughout our country where we look at our apartheid and colonial history and the damage it has done. We need to, together, find ways of making sure we are able to move forward properly.

But we also need to look at how we can change behaviour permanently. Momberg might serve her time, but will she come out a better person on the other end? Or will she continue to harbour racist thoughts? The only difference then is that she does not verbalise those thoughts and that could be even more dangerous to society, especially if there are thousands, if not millions, of others who feel the same.

While we rejoice at the imprisonment of a racist, we need to realise this is only the start. There are many more like her and they might not be deterred by a possible prison sentence.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 31 March 2018)

Sorry isn't good enough anymore Mr Shivambu

South Africans are mostly forgiving. Sometimes, in pursuit of ubuntu, it almost seems as if we want transgressors to apologise so we can forgive them.

When former police minister Adriaan Vlok apologised despite overseeing the apartheid police, we applauded him as if that was enough to erase the years of oppression he oversaw.

We almost willed former president PW Botha to apologise in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that we could forgive him and move on. We even forgave former prsident FW de Klerk for his role in apartheid. Some of us argued that he deserved his Nobel Peace Prize because he had moved our country to democracy.

More recently, we have seen several high-profile instances where politicians have apologised for transgressions and moved on.

Some of us were almost hoping former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, Premier David Makhura or Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi - anybody - would apologise for the deaths of 144 people in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, so we could forgive them. As much as we sympathise with the victims, we are always keen to forgive transgressors.

We have forgiven so many people for their blatant racism, which sometimes they blamed on lapses of judgment, or fatigue or both.

We have become so accustomed to accepting apologies and then allowing the transgressors to continue with their lives.

But sometimes an apology is not enough.

No amount of apologising can make up for apartheid; the millions confined to Bantustan homelands.

Yet black people, who form the majority in our country, have been patiently trying to find ways of forgiving. Maybe it has something to do with the crimes committed during apartheid being so huge that it is easier to forgive than to prosecute. The latter would probably take centuries.

Yet, even if there has been an apology, it does not mean that we should forget.

It is probably within the context of the easy apology that EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu thought it appropriate to apologise in the least contrite of statements after he attacked a journalist.

Throughout the statement, Shivambu refers to his attack on the journalist as a “scuffle”, trying to underplay what had happened. But what happened is that a leader of a significant political party in our country chose to use violence against a member of the media, ostensibly because he did not like the race of the journalist.

Shivambu ended the statement: “The EFF, which I represent in Parliament and am deputy president of, upholds media freedom, and freedom of association. As a loyal member of the EFF, I fully uphold media freedom and freedom of association and the scuffle was not meant to suppress these constitutional principles.

“I will not do media interviews concerning the incident because I believe there are important other issues to speak about in the public discourse than a scuffle. ”

Of course, instead of censuring their deputy president, the EFF praised him for his apology. This is not unusual because the EFF president, Julius Malema, has probably transgressed in much bigger ways.

And just like that, Shivambu thinks it is possible to move along without any repercussions, because that is how we do things in South Africa.

Maybe he is right that an assault on a journalist is a small thing and we have much bigger things to worry about, such as poverty, inequality, joblessness and, of course, land restitution.

But politicians need to set an example to the public otherwise, very soon, we could see more journalists assaulted because people do not like their race or the publication they represent.

The political climate leading up to the national elections next year will become intense and many people will say things for which they will later be forced to apologise.

But apologies mean nothing if they do not have consequences. Shivambu has presented the EFF, Parliament and the courts with a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that politicians will not be allowed to get away with it.

Political conduct is not only determined by how politicians react to big issues like Life Esidimeni. It is also determined by how they conduct themselves daily, including interaction with the media.

If we do not now deal with Shivambu and Malema for that matter, we will not be able to deal with the vitriol that will no doubt spew closer to the elections.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 24 March 2018)

Management’s big mistake putting the old out in cold

Shortly after I heard the sad news about the passing of Stephen Hawking on Wednesday morning, I had a disturbing conversation with a good friend who was laid off work about six months ago. I didn't think the two things were related but, after thinking about it quite a bit, I realised they were.

Hawking was one of the most brilliant minds ever and spent large parts of his life explaining the universe, black holes and relativity. He was without doubt the most famous scientist in the world. 

Having been diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease in his early 20s, and given a limited time to live, he defied the odds and passed away at the age of 76. His mind remained active, despite his disability. 

This brings me to my friend, who I shall not identify to protect his privacy. He is one of the most brilliant technical people I have met and takes great pleasure in understanding and mastering all kinds of computer operating and design systems. We worked together more than 20 years ago when I was asked to manage a fourth-wave technology project and he was one of the resources made available to me. 

I learnt much more from him than he learnt from me. He was one of the hardest working people I knew. Over the years we remained in contact and saw each other from time to time. The last time we spoke, he told me about how the company he had been serving loyally for more than 20 years had sent him abroad to study new software that they hoped to use locally. He was very excited about this software, which he now understood better than anybody in the company.

Yet soon afterwards, the company faced some economic challenges and they decided to lay off some people, including him. This was despite them going ahead with the implementation of the new software. They figured they could probably bring somebody from overseas or somebody else could learn how to deal with the software.

In one stupid management decision, the company lost years of intellectual knowledge that they had built up over many years, knowledge he could now make available to others.

For the past six months, he told me this week, he has sent his CV to just about anybody he could think of, without any success. He has become despondent and has had to sell off some assets to make ends meet. I cannot believe that someone with such incredible skills and experience could struggle to find work.

I can only think that he is considered too old. He is in his early 50s.

I am in my late 50s and I have begun to wonder about at which point one no longer becomes useful to society. I have been fortunate that my skills and experience are still being sought by many people and companies, and I share them happily. I am still able to make a relatively decent living, even though some months are better than others, but that is the plight of anybody who does project-related work.

There are certain things that only come with experience and my big concern is that, because South Africa has such a huge unemployment problem, especially among young people, older people will be the first casualties and with them will disappear an intellectual memory that can never be replaced.

There will always be a clamour to create job opportunities for young people, but can we really afford to lose years of skills and experience? We must find a way of using the expertise of older people to create opportunities for younger people.

Obviously, political parties will focus on the youth because they form the majority in society and have the potential to determine who becomes our elected political leaders. They could also be an investment in the future. But clever political leaders will consider the valuable contribution that can be made by people who have done the hard yards. It does not have to be a matter of choosing youth or experience. There must be a way of choosing both.

Imagine if someone had told Stephen Hawking that he should retire at 60, because that is the retirement age for scientists. Or if Nelson Mandela was disallowed from becoming South Africa’s first democratically-elected president at the age of 75 because he was considered too old.

There is a saying that age is nothing but a number, but it is not. It is much more than that. It could indicate a lifetime worth of experience that could be put to great use in society. Mandela, at 75, was not too old. Hawking, at 76, was probably taken away too soon. My friend, at just over 50, is still a spring chicken in comparison but, unless he finds work soon, all his skills and experience could be lost to society. That would be a shame. Unfortunately, his story is not unique.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 17 March 2018)

DA's Day Zero rapid changes too hard to swallow

There is a disease that seems to afflict many supposed public servants in South Africa. They struggle to take the public into their confidence and often do things that are not in the public interest.

This is nothing new. Public servants - and I include elected political leaders - have been lying to the public for many years, probably for as long as politicians have been around.

One of the biggest scandals of the apartheid era was the Information Scandal, which revolved around the government ploughing millions of rand into a huge misinformation campaign, including starting an English-language newspaper aimed at breaking down what was seen as the English media’s opposition to government. That newspaper still exists.

More recently, we have had scandal after scandal, including ones involving the millions spent on Nkandla and many involving the Gupta family.

“Smaller” lies have been perpetuated by people such as Malusi Gigaba, the Home Affairs Minister who did not know who had been granted citizenship, and former Public Enterprises minister Lynne Brown, who claimed to have been given wrong information by state-owned enterprises who reported to her, information which she then shared with the public.

The examples are too many to mention in a limited space such as this.

Now it seems the people of Cape Town might have been fed a huge lie by the DA for the past few months.

I have thought about the water crisis in Cape Town from all angles and, the more I think about it and the way it has been handled, I can’t help but conclude that the DA has been using the water crisis to sort out internal political issues.

If that is the case, then the DA should be ashamed that they have sunk as low, if not lower, than the ANC which they love to criticise.

How do you explain that “Day Zero”, a term probably coined by Tony Leon’s public relations company, has shifted so much in the space of a few months?

In October, mayor Patricia de Lille said Cape Town could run out of water by March this year, if Capetonians did not reduce their daily personal water consumption.

Then DA leader Mmusi Maimane became involved in the crisis at the end of January, side-lining De Lille in the process.

“Day Zero” - then calculated to be in April - was first brought forward and then, within weeks, shifted weeks and then months later.

Now, it appears, in the words of Maimane, “provided we continue consuming water at current levels, and we receive decent winter rainfall this year, Day Zero will not occur in 2018”.

A few weeks ago, everyone in authority was still complaining about the millions of residents who were not complying. How did that turn around so quickly?

There are not many examples in the world of consumer behaviour changing so radically and in a matter of two months. Yes, some of us changed our behaviour, but definitely not most people.

There is no doubt that the water crisis facing the Western Cape is the biggest it has faced, at least in recent history.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise the dam levels are at their lowest in years. One only has to drive around in the rural areas to see farms dying and dams, such as Theewaterskloof, virtually empty.

Desalination plants and “importing” water from surrounding municipalities can help, but not to the extent that the crisis will almost disappear, which it has, if Maimane is to be believed.

There can only be two explanations for what transpired this week: either the crisis was not as big as originally thought or the DA has decided there are other more important things that need its focus.

From where I am sitting, it appears the DA has realised it needs other, bigger, issues if it is to have any hope of beating the ANC in next year’s national elections. There can be no other explanation.

The water crisis was nothing more than a huge crisis that the DA could exploit to show up the ANC’s inefficiencies. Their messaging throughout this crisis has always been about how the city is in crisis because national government (code word for the ANC) was not doing its work.

In typical public servant mode, they refused to accept responsibility for their own role in manufacturing this crisis.

What this crisis has taught me is that, given the opportunity to rule, any opposition party will quickly adopt some of the bad habits of typical ruling parties, and that includes lying to the people they are supposed to represent.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 10 May 2018)

Skip colour, age or tribe - ministers must perform

After President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his first Cabinet reshuffle late on Monday night, many South Africans were more pre-occupied with the number of people in Cabinet with whom they could identify than the skills and experience of those appointed.

After feeling disappointed that he did not go far enough, I now realise Ramaphosa did reasonably well with his maiden Cabinet reshuffle. He is operating under severe restrictions in the ANC because of the narrow margin by which he won the presidency at the elective conference in December.

So, to take out 10 suspect ministers a week after outsmarting the wily Jacob Zuma is a feat not to be scoffed at.

My hope, though, is that after the Cabinet review he will have another opportunity to remove some others because of their portfolios falling away or being merged.

But while logical people would look at the skills and experience of those appointed, there are many who only look at whether Ramaphosa appointed ministers who look and sound like them.

There is a weird assumption that if someone looks and sounds like me, he will probably think like me too and he will have my best interests at heart.

But I am alarmed when people list the ages of the Cabinet members on social media and say not enough young people have been appointed. I agree that we need to create more opportunities for young people at all levels of society, but it must never be just because they are young. At the level of the Cabinet, in fact, it must be about how competent they are. If you are young, that should almost be a bonus.

As someone who was young once, I have realised that there are many things that I would have done differently. I was one of the youngest people to be appointed editor of the Cape Times, but it was only after I left the paper and reflected on some of the things I did that I realised I made many mistakes which I would not repeat having had the benefit of more experience and, dare I say it, wisdom. I am not saying my experience is indicative of all young people, but it’s the experience I know.

One of the other criticisms of the Cabinet is the number of women who have been appointed, but this perception is probably tainted by the disappointment at the choice of Bathabile Dlamini as the minister responsible for women.

I agree that women are under-represented in many areas where it matters. But being a woman should not be the major reason for being appointed to the Cabinet. Competence should always be the main reason. The other criticism of the new appointments is that there is not enough of this or that racial or tribal group. Some people seem to have nothing better to do than to scan people’s profiles to see which racial or tribal group they belong to.

I have never supported group identity, because it’s the easiest way to perpetuate situations of us and them. If I belong to one group, then surely there must be many others to which I don’t belong and with whom I should take issue.

I prefer to look at what I can learn and, in some cases, adopt from my interactions with different groups of people. Having said that, we must be conscious of how we put together groups of people in South Africa, especially with something as important as the Cabinet.

At Cabinet level, however, I care less about the colour, gender or age of ministers than about their ability to deliver. Hopefully, all ministers will have proper performance agreements with the president, which will be used to assess their fitness to hold office going forward.

If Bathabile Dlamini does not deliver, then she must go, even if it will upset her ANC Women’s League constituency. If Blade Nzimande does not sort out our transport problems, then he must go, even if it upsets the SACP. The same should apply to all ministers. If they don’t perform, they should be fired - even if it upsets those who supposedly look and sound like them.

In the end, we are all South Africans and we want the best for our country.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 3 March 2018)