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”.


  1. That's some good shit.

    What do we do as the now 'sloppy-seconds' of society while our apparently still nouveau-entitled leaders vigorously point fingers with impunity? Will we ever get to point back again, or did we forego that right when we admitted we were very, very wrong? Are we destined to live out the banalities of our white tendencies in self-realised, politically-correct shame, in self-imposed submission? White people are people too! Um hang on, that's not right... We're agents.

    I suggest knee pads all round. I reckon there's some significant forgiveness-grovelling to be done yet.

  2. I get sad a lot. sad that 16 years on - like you say - nothing has really changed. the people at the top have changed, but for the most part it's all the same.
    At the same time though, don't you think some things have changed? I have the freedom to have black people as friends, I'm a 29 year old white male, but I have a nephew who is half indian and half white, a baby sister who half black and half white, but that's not how i see them, they're Mics and Melissa. I am one of the few for whom nationbuilding is happening in my home. and consequently in my head.

    I wonder about how it feels to be black living in SA, and the lady from Orange Farm saying nothing has changed, that JZ doesn't even care to come visit. but what's with this mentality of 'they' have to come see so they can change things? why don't we (...I) do something to bring reconciliation, change, a better life now? as long as we wait on government and 'the leaders', the big wigs, the Amadodana, the freedom fighter heros to sswoop down and kiss our eina better, then we're in for a long wait.

    I try not to let the negative voices in my head outweigh the positive. even this morning i was at a preschool in Motherwell township (just outside PE) where a lady started a school with a few kids who had nowhere else to go and is now a fully registered preschool that costs R70 per term for the kids. I'll say that again: R70. She is making the difference. Your friend from shepherds keep is doing the same. bringing hope into hopelessness. and that's where our hope for the country comes. you said in your first post that SA is a teenager, awkward and gangly. that's it, we're still working ourselves out. but we're doing it, and that's important, that people like shepherds keep and ladies in townships are rescuing babies and educating children. one person, one thing, making lives better.

    JZ could disappear into a hole and the country would still need to do the hard work of growing. I think there's some work to be done.

    And some loud mouthed chops are goign to call us agents and bastards, but those are politicos who don't live in the real world. we who do make up south africa, and we will never get into the newspaper, but we will change the status quo.

    how about the idea that few of us are called to change a nation, but all of us are called to change ourselves?