Thursday, April 29, 2010


1. A Zulu-speaking former teacher recently wrote an opinion-piece to the editor of one of the big South African Sunday papers, complaining about the amount of homework his child was being sent home with from school. In his opinion, modern South African school children are being over-burdened with ‘unnecessary’ homework, and they’re so busy trying to achieve school deadlines that they’re no longer able to just be ‘normal’ kids. In his opinion, children can learn more from life attending a Kaizer Chiefs match than sitting home doing school projects about the migratory patterns of European swallows. Now, is it just me, or is there something slightly… I dunno, whinging, about this guy’s attitude? Granted, I didn’t read far enough into his letter to see whether he was going to finally drop a “ha ha only kidding” toward the end. I just couldn’t believe it. South Africa’s modern education system is severely compromised to be sure, but as far as I can see, any homework means that teachers care enough to hang around and at least throw some learning at children. Should the ‘previously-disadvantaged’ be complaining about ‘too much education’? To this ‘previously-advantaged’, um, no.

2. A friend of mine in Durban got herself involved in a project that draws talented artists together to benefit an orphanage on the Bluff called Shepherd’s Keep. This particular charity has taken on the mind-numbing responsibility of finding and saving the thousands (yes, thousands) of discarded babies all over the city. New-born babies are found in trash bags in the middle of freeways, in gutters, under bushes with their umbilical cords still attached and even in dustbins, and Shepherd’s Keep tries all it can to simply rescue them. My friend recently found herself in the small town of Drummond and spotted a cosy-looking art gallery. Assuming she’d find willing local arty-types inside to rally to the cause, she entered and approached the gallery owner with her card. Midway through her spiel about the babies, Shepherd’s Keep and the contribution artists around the world were already making to the cause, the man stopped her and asked brusquely, “what colour?” Angela, paused, dumbfounded, and said, “Colour?” Gallery owner: “Yes, what colour are the babies?” Angela: “Well, they’re mostly African babies…” Gallery owner, handing her card back: “Sorry, I’m only interested in helping white babies”.

3. My Zulu friend Futhi and I are always talking about the status quo. It usually involves a lot of head-shaking, incredulous laughter and tsk-tsking, as South African conversations often do. Yesterday she happened to mention the general attitude of impoverished Zulu’s in her township to the recent murder of Eugene Tereblanche, the disgraced leader of the white supremacist organization the AWB. According to her, the murder and its attendant media storm only served to remind South African blacks how racially unequal South Africa still is. “Why should there be so much fuss over one beaten white man,” she said, “when black farm workers are treated like that every day by white farmers?” You could argue that Tereblanche’s profile as AWB leader made his a special case, but there’s an element of truth in her observation: blacks are just anonymously un-newsworthy, and life in Africa has different grades (or skin-tones, if you will) of value. Abuse continues, thirteen-year-old boys are branded with hot iron to prevent them from stealing from the baas… but that’s not going to sell newspapers, now is it?

 4. On Tuesday 27th April 2010 South Africa acknowledged the 16th anniversary of the day South Africa became a democracy. The next day the Times’ headline read “We are not yet free”, and reported on various South African responses to Freedom Day. The accompanying picture showed president Jacob Zuma and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane guffawing in plush leather armchairs, no doubt while loyal subjects cavorted onstage for their pleasure at the Freedom Day celebrations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The average response of those surveyed by the Times was, “nothing has changed, and Freedom Day is an insult”. Nothing new there. But JZ’s speech contained a quotable quote, unusual for a man whose oratory is eye-peelingly bland. “In four years’ time”, said JZ, “we will have been free for 20 years. We will not have much sympathy for any reasons advanced to explain the failure to make a difference in the lives of our people.” In other words, explained the Times, South Africa has only four more years to blame apartheid for its present ills. We’d better get a move on, quick! As soon as the expiry date runs out on apartheid, we’ll only have ourselves to blame! And we can’t have that. Why, the brave comrades, cadres and veterans of the struggle have the moral high ground in perpetuity, don’t they? 69-year-old Triphina Radebe of Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, says it best: “We are not free at all, we still live in hardship and even Zuma has never come here to see how we are struggling”.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Why do I feel like the only person NOT rejoicing over the imminent rape of the Beloved Country by FIFA? I turned the radio on this morning (something I always regret doing, since Durban doesn't get 702 or Radio UJ) and every second ad is "it's almost here!"; "party of the decade!"; "how awesome!" etc. The official line is, the 2010 World Cup will bolster South Africa's rep far and wide, boost our economy, expose SA's burgeoning creative talents to the world, and even resuscitate our national soccer team, who just happen to be the lowest ranked African team in this year's Cup.

Under the surface, of course, it's a different story. Local musicians are up in arms over the fact that despite the R170 Gazillion allocated to the cultural face of the World Cup, literally none of it is being spent on music. The opening ceremony ("it's almost here!!!") features paltry international acts like John Legend, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas, and a sprinkling of SA's also-rans get to play from 2 till 4 with half the PA, or something demeaning like that. The legendary Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse is incensed that SA's music has been ignored and plans to hold a "Fuck You FIFA" event on the same evening.

And that's not all. Local artists of all mediums have been told they can expect to make a fortune selling their soccer-related artworks to the millions of glazed-eyed first-time-in-Afrika Europeans who are even now shipping vast quantities of Euro's in containers from the Continent in order to snap up authentic soapstone renderings of Nelson Mandela with a football on his head or Desmond Tutu in goal. Every relevant artwork gets an Official FIFA Stamp to prove its authenticity. Heck, every authentic South African (especially the dark ones) can apply for an Official FIFA-Approved Authentic South African Hologram Badge to place between his or her eyes for the weeks of the World Cup...

OK, I'm ranting. That's what blogs are for, right? The bottom line for cynical me is, the World Cup is a product, people are the consumers, and wherever there is a mass of excited people, there's money to be made. Sure, the 2010 World Cup will have a positive impact on many aspects of South African society, I'm not totally naive, but still, the World Cup is about FIFA, not about soccer. Even the players are mere pawns. Why should talented, beautiful South Africans (or even the ugly ones, for that matter... yes, Mike Sutcliffe and Julius Malema, that means you) be told they are worthy or unworthy of the world's attention  based on FIFA's recommendation? FIFA stands to make a shite-load of cash off SA, and what will we be left with? Innumerable white-elephant stadiums paid for by hard-pressed tax payers, social conditions as they were the day before the World Cup, land-fills full of spent vuvuzela's... a blighted landscape, people. Even as I write this, I'm being sued by FIFA for using the words "soccer", "World Cup" and "2010" in the same sentence. I'm not kidding.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Lying around, rewarding myself with a well-deserved mid-week afternoon nap, as you do, when my rather odd brain decides I should be doing something more constructive. Like blogging! Because everybody wants to know what John Ellis is doing all of the time! Then I think, well, I tweet constantly, and I update my facebook status all the time, so what's really to blog about? Immediately I realise that condensing your observations on life into 140 characters IS the new blogging. Paragraphs and coherent sentence structure are out, passe, so last century. And as for narrative arc, well, ha. So, how about collecting all my recent tweets into one place and letting them tell the story of my recent excursions, instead of having to be bothered with, I dunno, the formalities of language? This paragraph alone is already redundant. In an age where kids text each other without using a single vowel or 'proper' spelling, hr's mi nu blg, composed entirely of this week's tweets. I think you'll agree, this is pretty sad. Ok, here goes. My week in tweets. Mi wk in twts.

  1. I need a life.

    Birthday party!!!
  2. This just in: Nescafe Gold not as pleasantly fake as other instant coffees.Ok, 6 songs down, 2 with cowbells, 5 to go. Powering through. Don't want it to end, but can't wait for it to be out.
  3. All I can say is, thank heaven for anti-frizz shampoo.

    Vintage Fender Rhodes and a bit of tremelo. What better way to start the day?
  4. Voltaren injection in the buttock. Feeling great. Viva chemically-induced relief viva!
  5. Just been aquitted of that little incident in Milwaukee all those years ago. Yes! O Justice, where is thy sting?

    Neck muscles in spasm. Carrying heavy guitars through airport. No-one cares. Life hard. Self-pity kicking in.