activist


Die kind asem hoop

skryf sy drome op venster wasems

Lag trane 

van donker druppels in rooi riviere

Sing vals 

uit volle bors die lied van die oranje god

Met toe oe

die spook van pieter se seun in sy arms

…Hom…

Die kind van hom…
Dit is die storm in sy bloed
Die lawaai wat raas in sy siel
Bloei blomme in sy denke
Soekende arms na vrede bomme 
Ja
Die kind van Tata
Tata se kind

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Nelson Mandela

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others

Mandela…

To the world his death is the loss of a leader. Someone that remembered and lived for the people. Someone who fought for the rights of everyone no matter who or what they were. Someone who stood for peace first but with an iron fist and voice when needed. Someone who knew that to lead was to take a journey no one else was brave enough to take.

To the world his death is the loss of a friend. Someone who loved all people big and small, rich and poor. Someone who cared for everyone no matter who or what they were. Someone who knew that his love came with both a warm embrace and a stern word when we lost our direction. Someone who led from the front and guided us on the journeys we had to take but were too scared to take.

To the world his death is the loss of an inspiration. Someone who showed us how to love every single person in this world even those who don’t deserve it. Someone who taught us how to care for every single soul whether they needed it or not. Someone who inspired us to fight for peace when love couldn’t get us there. Someone who made us brave enough to take those journeys we were too afraid to face on our own.

To the world his death is the loss of an idea. Someone  that stood for everything that is good in this world. Someone that stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Someone who refused to be quiet when he saw a wrong.  Someone who knew to be a man was to stand for something good. Someone who stood up and protected us against the nightmares of this world. Someone who made us want to be better than what we really were. Someone who comforted us even when his own pain was too much.

To the world his death is the loss of Mandela. Bigger than anything else that walked this earth. A giant amongst men. A giant amongst all people. The giant who carried us on his back when the road was too tough. The mother who carried us in his arms when we needed just a little comfort and love. Mandela. King of kings. God amongst gods. Nelson Mandela.

To the world he is all Mandela.

To us South Africans he is Madiba. Our father. Our soul. Our Ubuntu. We are because he was. No, because he is. Our daily inspiration. Our voice of conscious. Our everything. Our South Africa. We walk in his shadow. We strive to be the people and nation he saw. We try to love the way he loved all of us. We try to be a little bit of him.

To me he is Tata. Father. Dad. Papa. Respect, honor, love, duty, responsibility and everything I have been taught about being me. The man I want to be is a reflection of him. Who I am to become. He is me and I am him. Because of Tata I am.

Goodbye Tata. Stay warm, Tata. Stay with us just a little longer. Just a little longer until we are brave enough. I love you. I miss you. My Tata.

Rest, my Tata. Sleep well, Tata. Tomorrow is coming. We will make you proud. I will make you proud.

Viva Mandela, Viva. Amandla Madiba, Amandla. Long Live Tata, Long Live.

It's a fight for my freedom to love...

It's a fight for my freedom to love...

I am pissed. Really pissed. I can’t believe that another piece of bigotry was allowed to be written into law. By those pseudo liberals from California. Actually, those pseudo people from California. No Californification for you then.

I mean really. Get off it. Let people love who they want to love. Why can’t you live with that? Why can’t two people who love not marry each other? Sorry. I guess you don’t believe in a happy marriage and would rather continue with the “woman barefoot in the kitchen” style fake love marriage you have. How about those pregnant teenagers then hey? Or the wife beating? Like the child abuse going around?

Actually, that is unfair. That can happen to anyone. But my point is that marriage is nothing sacred to protect for a group of men and women partners only. Really. What the hell is so sacred about it? This country gets divorced left right and centre. We have loveless marriages. We have arranged marriages. We have rape in marriage. We have child abuse in marriages. We have all this crap in marriages.

And none of that can be blamed on gays! You stupid… argh! You did that. Not me. And not my friends. You killed marriage. With your stupidity and superiority complex of failure and violence. Dip…

You know what? I love my wife. More than life itself. And I look around me and see very few marriages actually working. And guess what? Those marriages where people actually focus on each other and how much they love each other? They don’t give a damn what you call it or who else are allowed to get married. As long as (i) you don’t f*ck with their marriage and (ii) you have a chance of having the same love as they have. We want people to get married for love because we want to save the idea of being married.

Dammit…

Let my people marry!

Clean your own house. Clean your own church. Clean your own crap before you tell other people what they can or cannot do. This is how we get into trouble each and every bloody time. Someone somewhere deciding that their way is the only way and let’s go plant a bomb / start a war / execute someone / torture a few people / etc. Look inside and fix that you stupid… argh… I promised my wife I won’t swear.

No one is telling you who you should marry. No one is telling you what you should do. So shut the hell up about other people. Okay…

Let’s play this game.

You are not allowed to have a sense of fashion. You are not allowed to be happy. You are not allowed to smile and laugh. You are not allowed to be gay – in the smiling and laughing way I mean. You are not allowed to be flamboyant. You are not allowed to be an actor. You are not allowed to watch a movie with ANY gay actors or characters. You are not allowed to love.

We’ll leave that for us. You have your stinking marriage and put it where the sun don’t shine. You can kill marriages like you have done over the last 1,000 years and more. But you can’t kill love.

Let there be love. Let there be love…

Today I hope that my daughters will one day be gay. This way they stand a better chance of finding true love and see true tolerance in life.

Take your marriage and go flush it down the toilet like you have done since you “owned” it. You are killing it but you can never kill love. That’s what we have to offer. We didn’t plan on killing your holy marriage. You didn’t even know it but we are here to save the concept of marriage. To let two people who love each other make a lifetime commitment to each other. Respect each other. Honor each other. Love each other. Always…

You are flushing away the chance of saving this beautiful practice of marriage. Because you covered your eyes with your blinkers of hate. Well done. I hope you are proud. But not as loud or proud as us.

May God be ashamed of you and what you stand for.

I know I am. And I am bloody “straight”. You are not one of me. You don’t represent me. You don’t represent what my marriage stands for. You never have and never will.

My marriage is one of love. Somehow you just don’t get that.

The right to love. The right to marriage. It’s basic human rights.

It’s simple. You’re stupid.

Now go and leave us alone.

You know what I am really afraid of? That my own marriage and right to love will be next. That this limitation on marriage threatens my marriage. You never know when or where bigots will stop. Their history tells me they won’t stop anywhere we would think they would stop. Guantanamo Bay – they did this. Torture – they did this. Iraq – they did this. It’s always them. Those who look at others and find ways to hate and discriminate. Who forget to love and live first. This fight for my friends to marry the one they love is a fight for my right to stay married to the one I love. And a fight for my daughters to marry someone who will love them the way I love their mother. With no strings attached. Just pure and perfect love. I am fighting for my wife and my daughters. For their happiness. And their life. This fight is my fight. Our fight. A fight for a life of love.

Let there be love.

Dammit. Liberty, justice, freedom and equality for all.

Just add love…

To you bigots out there. Here is a nice little song for you. From the bottom of our hearts…

______________________

To Vanessa, Mark, Randy, Steve and all my friends. I am sorry. I am truly deeply sorry. But I will never give up this fight. Never ever. We beat Apartheid and we’ll beat this crap as well. Remember: Justice, equality, freedom and liberty ALWAYS wins. We are right. We will overcome. We will win. Today is just a little bump in the road. Tomorrow we fight again. We will not be defeated. We might lose a battle but never the war.

This is a protest!

This is a protest!

It’s sad really. The US trade unions protesting. I’ve been watching them all over the US lately. Protesting here and protesting there. And they make me want to cry. No! Not the reason for their protests. But the way they protest. It’s sad really.

It always starts with some guy shouting into a mike or loudspeaker. It’s not a pretty sound. You ever watched Apocolypse Now? You know that scene where the two sides are just shooting away at each other with flares going off everywhere? And this guy keeps on shouting through the speakers at the American soldiers. Telling them to give up? Well, that’s what these US trade union “announcers” sound like. The guy from Apocalypse Now used it as a form of torture. And so does the trade union guys. I think it might be banned under the Geneva Convention. They can count their lucky stars that the US doesn’t support the Geneva Convention. Mmm. Makes me think that Dick and Bush should have recorded these trade unionists and used it at Guantanamo? Thank god the trade unions never leaned towards the right. That might have been a bit ugly. The horror… (Those who did watch Apocalypse Now will get the pun…)

Now for another movie scene and the trade unions. You ever seen Midnight Express? The scene where the prisoners all walk in a circle the whole time? Like zombies? Well, there goes the US trade unions. Walking in circles the whole time while protesting. WTF? Is that in some handbook somewhere that I missed? Walk in a little circle and hypnotize the “bosses”? Or is it just part of the regulatory limitations placed on trade union activities in the US? I don’t care what the reason or reasons might be. It’s sad. Really sad. And the worst part is that it turned me into a zombie while I watched them go in a circle over and over again. And again… And again… Yawn… I need a nap. Protest to bore you to death.

And where are the people? You can’t really call ten people a protest. Hell, it isn’t even enough people to make a good old English queue. You need more people to make a statement. Any group of people who number less than a sports team is really just a bunch of buddies hanging out. Not a protest. Hell. My family will protest en mass if you want to call your sorry attempt a protest. And we will have more people than the average US trade union protest. And no screeching speakers either…

Now Souf Afrikans! We know how to protest. We have it in our blood. And in our bones. It’s who we are.

We gather in our thousands. Because it is like a street party! Have fun, bring the kids. Bring something to eat. And drink! It’s like a bring-‘n-braai (potluck).

And we dance. Oh boy, do we dance! Come on! It’s a party right? No party is complete without a bit of a dance.

Okay, it’s not a dance as you know it. It’s a toyi-toyi. And you sh*t yourself if you are on the other side! It’s got rhythm. It’s got song. It’s got chanting. It’s got snappy slogans. Viva! Amandla! Hell yeah! None of this Vietnam guy-on-the-speakers screeching. Nope. Real vibrancy. Real threat. Real protest.

And it’s got beat. Our workers have beat.

And if you face it? You know you’re beat.

You think we will be stopped by some second rate law? Haha! We have our ways and means. We know how to get around it.

Way back in the days when we took to the streets without much of a reason… Anything for a party. Anyway. We have this law in Souf Efrika that says you’re not allowed to have a sit-in. You know, not allowed to take over a building and “sit in”. We went this way and that way. We had to find a way to occupy their buildings. It was the only way to get our point across… And… hum… stop them from doing anything.

Got it! Let’s work on the principle that no one in Souf Efrika knows all 11 of our official languages. And that the boere in charge will only know Afrikaans and maybe a hint of Ingils

We created the Siyalala. WTF? Exactly. That was what we hoped they would think. Wait… Let me tell you a bit about why we were protesting. Apart from the reason to party!

The target was a major clothing retailer in South Africa – Mr Price. Blah blah blah. I won’t bore you with all the details. But it we wanted them to sign a document where they supported an anti customs fraud initiative. But they refused. Why? They didn’t say  but we thought we knew why. We caught a few containers in the Maputo port (Mozambique) that already had the Mr Price tags hanging on them. What’s the problem? The clothes were meant to have “added value” in Souf Efrika for them to get the tax break. Meaning that some of the “value” of the garments must be added in Souf Efrika. Needless to say, but no value was added if the Mr Price tags already hung on the clothes in a foreign port…

So we created the Siyalala to target them and those supporting them – the banks. A Siyalala was another piece of genius from old Ebrahim Patel. Man, I loved working with him and learning from him. He always found a way. And this time it was the Siyalala.

We gave them notice of our protest through something called a Section 77 – the Souf Efrikan notification of mass action. Wait, let me see if I still have that…

I’m back – here it is. Word for word:

____________________________

Annexure 2: Nature of Protest

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union intend initiating socio-economic protest action against the Mr Price Group, associated operations and the banking sector in the following ways:

  1. Mass rallies outside any Mr Price Group associated stores and banks in general. These include those situated in malls and stand-alone stores.
  2. Placard demonstrations at targeted retail warehouses, retail company offices, distribution points and any other commercial centre associated with the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector.
  3. Solidarity campaigns aimed at the media, shareholders, employees and any organisation or individual sponsored or in the employment of the Mr Price Group, any of the Mr Price Group associated operations and/or banking sector.
  4. Picketing outside targeted Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking properties or properties linked to any of these companies.
  5. Demonstrations at events sponsored by the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector
  6. Targeted contact with customers of the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector informing them of the reasons for the protest action.
  7. Call for consumer boycotts of the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector through general mass gatherings and protest campaign activities.
  8. Call on financial sector to discontinue supply financial services to the Mr Price Group and it’s associated operations.
  9. Siyalala’s at the Mr Price Group, associated operations and divisions and banks and bank properties during operating hours for the purpose of retarding and/or obstructing work in order to defend the socio-economic interests of workers.

____________________________

Notice hidden in number 9? Highlighted just for you? The Siyalala. The “lie in”.

Yes! If we weren’t allowed to “sit in” then we might just as well “lie in”. And we did! Well, everyone knows you need a good rest after a protest party. And what better way to rest than “lie in” for a little bit? Did I mention that Mr Price also sold pillows and blankets? Aah… Now that is much better. A good old “lie in” after spending much of the day partying protesting outside.

I miss a good protest. Us Souf Efrikans have got the worker beat. I think the unions over here have the workers beat.

Gotta go. It’s late. And I’ve been watching US trade unions protest. Yawn. They tire me out. I’m going for a Siyalala. See ya later.

____________________________

From the Loose Ends files…

I started writing this post a while back when I was in one of my “moods”. But a few things have happened and I’ve met a few people that changed my mind just a little. So I changed the ending a bit…

03-ps08-67ehumanity-posters

I have always tried to believe that there isn’t an us and a them. That there is just us. That we will all care about each other if we really try a little bit harder. If we just sat still for a moment and looked around us. If we just took the time to share a meal. Or a hug. Or a handshake even. Just start a conversation and we’ll all be okay with each other.

But now I am not so sure. I don’t know about “us”. I think there might be us and them. Maybe we are more fundamentally divided as a human race. More divided than just amongst those fake walls of religion, politics, race and whatever other lies we tell ourselves. I’m not saying any of those are naturally bad – just that we sometimes use them to keep us apart instead of using it to pull us together. A divider and not a uniter. And maybe the divide is deeper than the bridges we can build.

Divided between those who care about the world and the people who live among us and those who only care about themselves and their own self interest. Divided between those who care about the individual in the group and those who believe the individual is more important than anything else. Divided between those of us who believe in the us and those who believe in the me. Ubuntu compared to me-me-me.

I want to live in a world where we all care about each other. Where we care about our actions. And our decisions. But we don’t live in that world.

We live in a world where too many of those who rule rule only for themselves or for those who look/believe/talk/walk like them. Where decisions are made not in the best interest of everyone but in the interest of the few. Where people do what they want to do to get their own fill and damn the consequences. A world of those who have and want more versus those who have little and just want enough to make it to tomorrow. A world where the actions of a few can damn the many into poverty. An economy where those looking after the me can drag us down while they stay on top. A world of injustice. A world of inequality. A world of limited freedom. A world of no liberty. A world of those who have it and will keep it and those who have little but will still share. A world of us and them.

And then I met a few people on the road again. I looked at my kids and realized the world is still not black and white. It’s still shades of gray. I walked into a few old friends and made a few new friends. And I realized that we will be okay. It’s fun to fight injustice. It’s good to take on inequality. It’s right to demand freedom. It’s better to ask for liberty. Because us few can change the world. Little by little. And we can live while doing it. We can have life while doing it.

We can save one child and that will be fine. We can work with one farmer to make it better. We can fight one disease ridden community at a time. We can stop one rape and make a difference.

Yes, the world isn’t black and white. There are so many good people out there fighting the good fight. Not just people but companies and politicians and activists. A company I love reminded me of that. Good people. Not questioning whether they should be doing all this but just doing it. Ha! Never thought I would find inspiration amongst the evil money-makers! But they are not evil. Not even close. They make a damn fine… hum… product. And they are good people. On our side.

Some of us will protest in the streets. Some of us will run our businesses to make it better. Some of us will just make a difference without thinking. Some of us will help the old lady cross the road. Some of us will speak up when we see something wrong. Some of us will stand up for justice alone and feel the power of the others. Some of us will share our last meal with the hungry outside the door. Some of us will tell our children. Some of us… Some of us will never forget. And all of us will make a difference in our own way. Nothing is too small and nothing is too big. A difference is a difference… No matter who makes it.

We are together even if we don’t know it. And even when we forget we are together and we are there for each other without knowing. Us. Separate. Divided. Alone. And together…

Together we will overcome. You and me and them. We are few.  But we are strong.  And we will never give up.

Ubuntu. I am because you are. I am because we are. We are…

The G20 protest in London is all the news today. CNN can’t stop showing the few people protesting and hoping that something would happen. Something “news worthy”… Yawn. Big bore. These people don’t know how to protest. I remember the last real protest I was involved in. Back in 1999… Seattle… The WTO… And the streets were filled with protesters. (Okay, some were demonstrators because they didn’t really know what they were against or for but that is just a minor technicality.) It was fun…

wto_seattle_99

Let's play...

The Battle of Seattle and me

I was as excited as hell. Minister Alec Erwin, then Minister of Trade and Industry of South Africa, asked me to be part of the Ministerial Team to go to the WTO round in Seattle. Not only was it an incredible honour to represent my country, but this was going to be my first trip to the US. USA here we come!

It was a long, long flight to Seattle. It’s a 14 hour flight to Miami and another 7 hours to Seattle. And a few hours hanging around Miami waiting for our connecting flight. It took me just more than 24 hours to get from Cape Town to Seattle. Remember, those were my smoking days…

No luck in having a smoke in Miami. Welcome to the US – where smoking was already banned. I was held up by security for a while. I guess my diplomatic passport didn’t do the job. Yep, got one of those but only for the duration of Seattle WTO round. No time for a smoke. I was slowly dying by this time.

Actually it wasn’t that bad. I am like Pavlov’s Dog when it comes to flying. I fall asleep the second I feel the engines starting. So I slept pretty much for 20 hours plus. I was wide awake by the time we got to Seattle in the middle of the night. Time to hit the bars then.

Dennis George, from another trade union federation, and myself decided to go for a few beers and see if that would get us ready for bed. The theory was that we will either get tired or pass out if we drank enough. So we sat in an almost empty bar and had a few bad beers – my first Bud was my last Bud. Might be the worse beer I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some odd beers in weird places. The only other people in the bar was the barman, one fat middle aged with a walking stick (me today minus the walking stick) and a beautiful girl in her 20’s. They weren’t together.

The girl got up to leave and started walking in our direction to get out – we sat close to the exit. Dennis looked at her and as she came closer – well more of a stare than a look. You need to know Dennis… She almost passed us when Dennis mumbled a hello. She stopped and turned towards us – and looked at us for a few seconds. And then she asked if she could join us.

That was odd. Neither Dennis or myself are much to look at. Our beauty is more internal… Dennis bought her a drink and I just looked at her trying to figure out why she wanted to join us. So I asked, “what do you do for a living?” She was a “private exotic dancer”, she said. I was trying to figure it out – and then it hit me. “So, what does a private exotic dancer do?” “Anything you would like me to do. In private.” Confirmed – she was a prostitute.

With that out the way it made it easier to talk. I wasn’t going to sleep with anyone or pay for that matter. I would have to leave if she wasn’t a prostitute. I am happily married and have no interest in other women. But with her being a prostitute it meant that she wouldn’t want to sleep with me in any case – I wasn’t going to pay! No interest from either party. We could just sit and chat. And I told her so.

We had a nice chat. She came from somewhere I can’t recall. Somewhere in California I think – San Something. She came to Seattle to ‘work’ the WTO delegates and already had a few ‘hits’. I asked her how much she charged – $400 per hour. Bloody hell! Three strikes and I am out – love my wife, won’t pay and can’t afford anyway. But Dennis had other ideas.

Dennis started talking about the possibility of them coming to a financial agreement that suited both of them. He was trying to negotiate a ‘living wage’ related price – like any a good trade union negotiator should. But she got down to $250 and wouldn’t move from their. Still way off the $50 Dennis was willing to pay. South African trade unionist were cheap – we didn’t get paid that much. And we earned South African Rands. But Dennis was arguing that he wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes at most and that made it $200 per hour. I think he was pushing with the 15 minutes claim – that was just subtle bragging.

I started losing interest in their discussion and concentrated on my beer and the guy in the bar. He was having this incredible chat with the barman about his shares. And the barman was talking about his shares. The middle aged guy was a fisherman (with a walking stick?). Two average guys talking about their investments. So different from South Africa where only the rich can even think about investments – never mind actually investing. Welcome to the US where they talk about their investments and not about surviving another day.

The middle aged guy got up and started walking towards us to leave. He was about to exit when he turned around and looked at the prostitute and tilted his cap and said, “Evening mam. Send my regards to your family” and then walked on. She didn’t hear him. I asked her if she knew the guy that walked past and she said that she doesn’t know him from a bar of soap. “Well, I think you just missed a customer as he was talking to you and said something about your family”. She jumped up in a flash and ran after him with all the composure she could muster. They spoke for a few second and then got into the lift and disappeared. She didn’t even say goodbye. Dennis was shell shocked. “Hey Dennis, you’ll thank me in the morning when you look at your wallet”. And with that I went off to bed. To sleep. Alone. If Dennis thought she charged a huge amount wait until he tried it with me…

The next day was boring. We sat around and discussed tactics for the following day when negotiations was due to start. I was to focus on the African group of countries. The African countries negotiated a common position before we came over and it was my job to ensure we stick with this deal. With that done – time to explore the city and have a few beers.

Hit the jackpot at the first bar. I saw a group of people with steelworkers t-shirt drinking together. Well, I was a trade unionist and decided to join them for the evening. Had a ball. Shared trade union stories – they were all on permanent protest against a company that fired them a few years back. I didn’t tell them I was a WTO delegate as it became clear that they were in town to protest at the WTO meeting. It also became clear that they expected a huge protest the next day. People from all over will be in the streets – treehuggers, activists, trade unionist, anarchist all joining together for the first time to protest against something you could all agree on – their hatred of the WTO. It was late in the evening when we parted – and they gave me a steward’s badge for the protests planned the next day. I was now both a delegate at the WTO meeting and a steward and marshall at the protest against the WTO meeting!

President Clinton was going to have an official welcome on day one – and I was asked to represent South Africa with Minister Erwin and Kevin Wakeford who headed up the business delegation. Needless to say, they expected me to dress the part – suit and all. But no, thanks to my steelwork friends, I knew that the protest was going to huge and dressed like a protester instead – khaki trousers, boots, suede jacket, cap and backpack. Easy to turn into something more presentable if I tucked in my shirt and took off the cap.

Of course Alec Erwin was less impressed with my choice of attire. We all got together in his much fancier hotel room before we left. I walked into his room and he stared at my clothes for a while before saying, “Mr H, I know you like a more casual approach to clothing, but you do know that we are going to the official opening to represent our country. And we are going to meet President Clinton.” I smiled at him and said, “We’ll have to see who makes it into the building first.” He had a perplexed look on his face but just shrugged and said, “Lets go.”

Alec and Kevin had suits on – and their WTO delegate umbrella and ID cards (hanging around their necks). That was the standard WTO delegate dress for the day. Needless to say, they stood out like a sore thumb in the streets where everyone was wearing protester clothing. We turned the corner to the building where the WTO meeting was to be held and just saw a sea of protesters. It seemed as if all 50,000 protesters turned our way and, seeing the suits and umbrellas advertising their WTO status, they all shouted ‘delegates!’ And then they surrounded our little group of three. Shouting and screaming insults – and making sure we don’t get any further.

Okay, they didn’t surround our group of three. They actually surrounded the group of two – Alec and Kevin. You see, I looked like a protester with my clothes, backpack and lack of WTO umbrella and id card (tucked away in my backpack and pocket). Alec and Kevin couldn’t move. They were surrounded. I looked at Alec and Kevin, winked and moved into the crowd. See ya later, suckers!

Everywhere I walked there were little groups of delegates surrounded by protesters. None of the delegates were allowed to move and no one could get close to the WTO building. But I was free to walk amongst the protesters. Especially with my steward badge and all.

It was a sea of faces and dresses. Turtles, dolphins and even a few cows. It was something to see. Everyone standing for anything joined together for one day of protesting against a common enemy – the WTO. And the teamsters did their bit as well. Surrounding the place with trucks and buses. Making it impossible for anyone to get in or out. Man, it was beautiful and looked for a minute like the dawn of something new and powerful – people’s power.

I walked around to see if there was a way in. But the teamsters did their work pretty well. The trucks and buses blocked every angle. And they had people manning every opening to ensure no one got in. But I had to get in. That was my job.

I got to the building where Clinton was going to open the meeting. A few buses between me and the building. And a few protesters on top of the buses. And then the riot police waiting on the other side. Only one way in – over the buses we go.

I got on top of a bus and looked around. Good choice. No one else on this one. Just two cops on the other side waiting. But that shouldn’t be a problem. I have a WTO ID card. I jumped down the other side and the cops came running towards me – their riot gear shaking and weapons aimed and ready. I shouted at them that I am a delegate. They stopped about 2 meter away from me and told me to get back ‘sir!’. WTF? I repeated that I am a delegate – just let me get my ID card. But they told me to get back. Their orders were to not let anyone in. What? Not even delegates! These guys were taking orders way too seriously. The first order of the day was not to allow anyone to get through, but they forgot to tell them that they should at least allow the delegates through! (Tip for their superiors. Speak slowly, clearly and in single syllables. And remember. These guys don’t interpret orders. They just execute it – to the ‘t’).

They were getting agro and I knew that the best move would be to go back the way I came – over the bus. By now a few protesters have started to take notice of me on the cop side of the buses. And they started to shout encouragement! Booing the cops. They still didn’t know that I was a WTO delegate. I moved back to the bus and a few protesters extended their hands to help me back up. ‘Great stuff’, ‘yea, take them on’, and ‘way to go brother’ greeted me as I got back into the crowd. I was a hero amongst the protesters for a little while…

But I had to get in. That was my job. I started moving towards the front of the main WTO building. But a human chain blocked my way in everywhere. I played the game – walking around as a marshall and steward telling people to strengthen the lines. All the while looking for a way in.

Things were starting to look bad though. The crowd was losing control. The anarchists started burning tires, throwing bricks and stones at windows, and climbing on top of building shouting and taunting the cops. I have been at enough protests marches in South Africa to know that this was only heading one way – a clash.

I got close to the front of the main protest facing the riot police. I was about 3 people away from the front when people started to sit down. Bad move. I have learned from experience that you don’t sit down in front of cops when they want you to move. And then came the teargas. It was like being home in South Africa back in the 80’s all over again – protesting, riot police, teargas and stones versus rubber bullets.

The guy in front of me got hit by a teargas canister and it went off in his face. He started wailing and puking almost immediately. I grabbed my handkerchief, wet it with my water bottle and covered my face (a lesson learnt from many protests in South Africa – be prepared). It burned, but it was easier to breathe this way. And then I grabbed the guy that got hit by the teargas by the collar and started pulling him towards the side and away from the protesters – towards the WTO building.

Make no mistake. I didn’t do it to help the guy. I saw him as my ticket to get into the WTO building. I dragged him to the human chain and shouted at them that I needed to get him to a medic – and flashed them my steward badge. They opened up and the medics were just a few meters away. I threw the guy at the medics and shouted at them to help him.

I sat down, washed my face with the bottled water and then took out my delegate ID card. The cops were moving towards me – ready to either arrest me or kick me back into the protesting crowd. I got up and flashed them my delegate card and shouted, “Will you now please let me in?” They stepped back, pointed to the entrance of the building and shouted ‘go!’. I grabbed my backpack and walked over to the doors wiping the teargas tears from my face.

I got into the building and headed for the escalator to go upstairs to the meeting area. It was one hell of a long escalator. I looked up as I got on the escalator and just saw cameras flashing and rolling. Damn. The press. They have been starved of people to interview all day. No one made it in and here I was – a prey to pounce on. Someone to interview at last.

But I wasn’t meant to speak to the press. I had no training. What do I do? Push past them or say a few words? I quickly decided that I will speak to them. It has been about 3 hours or more since the South African team last saw me disappear into the crowd of protesters. I was sure that they were all back at the hotel room by now. Watching CNN to see what was happening. I will talk to the press to let them know I am okay. I am alive and well. And that I made it in. So I straightened my clothes and neatened my hair. Bring on the cameras baby!

I hit the top and froze. There were cameras and microphones everywhere. People shouting questions left, right and centre. I couldn’t register anything. Then I heard a question coming through my cloudy mind, “Sir, what’s it like out there?” And I said the first thing that came to my mind – never a good idea, “Well, the first thing that went through my mind when I smelled the teargas was home-sweet-home”. And it went out live for the world to see…

And the press loved me for that. I gave them a soundbite and that was what they wanted. I was their favourite for the rest of the day. I don’t know if it was because of my quote or whether I was one of only a handful of people that made it in and that they could interview. But I enjoyed the media attention and had my 15 minutes of fame – stretched to a few hours because of a lack of competition!

So I spend most of the day and evening talking to the press and drinking coffee. Nothing to do. The police had to clear the streets before I could leave the building again. But I did get a great t-shirt. Man the Americans are fast. I got a t-shirt that said ‘My trade minister went to the WTO and all I got was this lousy trade deal’. Still got it.

I eventually went to the hotel at 2 am. The cops escorted me all the way there. Two cop cars in front and one at the back. Me in the limo in the middle. So different from the day of protesting. But by now the streets were empty. Not a soul except for the cops.

I got to the hotel and headed up to Alec’s room. I wasn’t sure whether he would still be awake, but had to check in to make sure. Just to show him I am back. I could hear the tv inside and opened the door. He was still up with most of the team hanging around. He looked at me and shook his head saying (with a little grin on his face), “Home sweet home Mr H?”

Okay, so it wasn’t the best thing to say with the world watching. I wasn’t working for the tourism department or doing advertising for South Africa. Hell, I was never media trained. But then who made it to the meeting and who didn’t?

___________

(Note: a few other things on my Seattle experience.

Day 2 was even more unbelievable. There were absolutely no one in the streets. You could hear the riot police marching through the streets in typical military style. Their beat echoed off the buildings. Like police patrolling the streets in a police state. A sign of the future world to come?

I was walking the empty streets by myself for a little while – just to take in a bit of Seattle. And I saw my first sex shop. It had Barbie and Ken in S&M clothing in the window. I was dumbstruck and stared at it not knowing what to think. It was so foreign. And so naive. Barbie has never been the same since. A sign of the future South Africa to come?

And of course, all of this happened while my wife and oldest daughter was at home (before the birth of my youngest one). We told my daughter that I was going to Seattle. She was almost three and didn’t get what I was doing there, but she got the fact that I was in Seattle. My wife was cooking when she heard my daughter call from the TV room, “Look mom, daddy in Seattle”. My wife came into the room and saw the absolute chaos happening in Seattle. She knew that I would be one of the people in the rioting crowd. I always want to be in the middle of it – not participate, but try and get a sense of it all. Just take it in and observe people and their behaviour. And she did what she always does – she started worrying. She didn’t go to sleep until I phoned from the hotel many, many hours later. A sign of our future together when I travel?

I always thought that my home-sweet-home comment was just relevant to that moment in Seattle. But it only hit home how true it was when I moved to the US many years later. It still felt like home-sweet-home. Both the good and the bad.

liberal-definition

I am a liberal and proud of it. And I am getting a little sick and tired of liberals always having to “play nice”.

(Okay, social liberal and fiscal conservative – but you get the point.)

The problem with liberals isn’t that they take a knife to a gun fight. No. They have a nuclear arsenal but they know responsibility. They think of the other side. They think of what is just and what is wrong. What would be fair to say and what won’t. They shouldn’t always have to be so nice.

The problem isn’t that liberals think they are better than others. It’s that they think of others in the first place. They don’t want to insult them. Wake up! It’s not as if the other side think of you before they act.

Look, liberals have justice and history behind them. Liberalism means moving forward. Not being scared of new things. Seeing things as a challenge and taking it on. The alternative means being scared of change and wanting to hold on to old values and systems. You think that this was how America was build? (Or the world for that matter.) You think America would be here if people were to scared to do new things? You wonder why the liberals are at the coast? Because they tackle the world. Head on. Hell, we would still be stuck riding bicycles if it was up to the other side. Guess who challenged the moon?

I am a liberal. Yes, I have a few deep rooted conservative streaks in me. Especially when it comes to economics. But true conservatism thank you. I don’t like it when government subsidize business. And I don’t like it when government have too much power over social issues and my personal life. It’s not conservatism. It’s “selectivism”… when we “select” government to only conform to our values and we select to be tolerant to only those who look like us, speak like us, walk like us, do like us, eat like us, drive like us, waste like us… You get the picture. it’s not conservatism. It’s facism cloaked in pretty words. It’s socialism dressed in the latest value fashion. It’s nationalism shot with the latest high definition jargon.

But I am not always a nice liberal. I say that if a man slaps me I don’t hold his hand and wait for him to “come around” to my way of thinking. I’ve tried that. Guess what? It doesn’t always work. And I don’t have time for them to come along and see it my way. I’ll rather save the person who is dying of hunger and struggling with poverty. They are my real concern.

I am liberal and proud of it.

I am a liberal. But I am ready to rumble. Time to pull out the big guns of liberalism. Equality, justice, liberty and freedom for all.

Liberals… Stand up and be strong. Remember what you gave the world. The civil rights movement. Child labor laws. Equal rights for women. YOU gave this world equality. You gave it justice. Freedom. Liberty. You fought for it. And you won each and every time. Don’t forget that you have been on the right side of history each and every single time. But you only got it by fighting for it. By standing up and not being quite. And by fighting inch by inch. Step by step. Not always by being nice. Now is the time to fight for justice, equality, freedom and liberty for all. You made the world. Now take it back.

I am Liberal. And proud of it. But I don’t always play nice.

I am liberal. Proudly liberal. I am strong. And I am right. Feel my power. Liberal power!

(With a touch of true conservatism to add flavor.)

imagine

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