activists


We see the signs everywhere. On Facebook. On Tweets. Profile pictures. Snapchats with friends. Retweets with strangers. Everywhere we see the Charlies.

Je suis Charlie because madmen murdered in the name of a silly god. Cowards hiding and murdering behind masks because they were to weak to face the mighty pencils of Charlie, Charb and all those brave cynical cartoonists who made us giggle with shock and awe.

Je suis Charlie.

Je suis Charlie because we feel the world shifting. We feel powerless in the face of cowards. But we feel powerful because we need to stand up to them. Them…

Je suis Charlie?

Who are they? This them? Who are these people we need to stand up against?

Is it the madmen killing in the name of a silly god?

Is it the crazies denying the rights of people to love in the name of their own version of the silly god?

Is it the money eaters who kill economies in the name of profits?

Is it the greed grabbers 1% who always want, want, want more even though they have it all while those who serve them live hand to mouth?

Is it the soulless who refuse to change except to make the permanent climate change the one that will kill us all?

Is it… Is it?

Women’s rights. Poverty. Diseases. Hunger. People getting killed for being black. Cops being executed for being cops. Pedophiles. Lying politicians. Deniers of rights. Racists. Bigots. Creationists. Name them. Them.

Who are they? These them? It is all of them. Those killing, hating, discriminating, stealing, greeding, profiting in the name of their silly gods – whether it is a god they see when they look up at the sky or a god they see when they stare at the wallets.

That is the enemy we have to fight. All of them.

Je suis Charlie?

Je suis Charlie.

Tell me Charlie. What you doing to stop these people? Are you carrying a sign each time they come after us? Whether in the streets of Ferguson or Wall Street. Whether at Charlie Hebdo or church pews. Whether the blue eyes they give women through their violence or the blue sky they choke with their burning of old trees dug from the earth. Whether it is the hunger they refuse to fill or the future of the kids that are nil.

Tell me Charlie. When do we say enough is enough. When do you earn the right to say “Je suis Charlie”.

Je suis Charlie?

And what about the others, Charlie?

Every kid going hungry. Every worker denied a right. Every cent under-earned by women. Every African dying of a preventable disease. Every African American killed in the streets. Every school teacher throwing themselves in the path of the bullets being sprayed at another school. Every cop being shot when dealing with the dregs of our society. Every farmer struggling because the corporate machine squeezes another drop of profit. Every tree felled for a bit more palm oil. Every specie dying because we choke the earth with our fossil fuels. Every student getting raped. Every person denied a vote. Every women forced to cover herself. Every gay marriage not allowed. Every immigrant exploited. Every injustice committed. Every freedom denied. All that and so much more. Every. Single. Thing.

Those are our people Charlie.

We can’t deny it. We can’t unsee it. We can’t refute it. We can’t unfeel it.

Je suis Charlie?

Je suis Charlie.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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?

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(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.

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And that is generally followed by “but more needs to be done”. Google Greenpeace and ‘a step in the right direction’ and you get over 6,500 hits. Oxfam gives you more than 13,000. Would it hurt you to try and find a few new phrases? And what does it mean in any case?

The world is one continuous movement of “a step in the right direction”. Ending World War II – “a step in the right direction”. Ending slavery – “a step in the right direction”. Ending the ice age – “a step in the right direction”. Our earth is “a step in the right direction”. We solve problems one after the other. One by one. We have never done it with one clean sweep. We just can’t. We prioritise and tackle them one at a time. And it doesn’t solve the problem. It only makes the next one a bit clearer. Ending slavery – did that end racial problems and create equality? No it did not. But without “a step in the right direction” we would not be where we are today – fighting the next levels of discrimination and equality. So our development as a specie is based on the principle of continuously taking “a step in the right direction”.

You think we will solve poverty in Africa by throwing more aid in the pool? Or end global warming by switching off the lights? No we won’t. We need to go one step at a time first. Is bio-fuels a solution? No it isn’t. But it takes us one step closer to the solution. And we wouldn’t be able to get to the next “solution level” if we don’t make the incremental improvements first. Each time we improve a little bit on the previous time. (And then find out that is has other consequences, and now we have two problems to solve).

I mean really, the world will end the day activists actually start applauding some action by a “standard” company. Or just saying ‘well done’ would be way too much to ask. No, it is always the same – “a step in the right direction”. Really guys, you have to find a new way of saying this. Nothing is good enough. No, always a reminder that we need to do more. Okay, I get it. You will never be happy. And I don’t want you to be happy. It is your role to always put pressure on everyone to keep it moving forward. Just like a teenager – never happy, always complaining, and telling us we don’t know what we are talking about.

Thank god we don’t ask them to run the show. No wait. That might be “a step in the right direction”.

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I’ve been asked about my “anger” many times. What do you have to be “Angry” about? Why are you the “Angry African”? Why indeed…

I would rather have a good meal. Maybe help my wife prepare the food. Get the table ready. Talk about whether we should have brocolli or peas or carrots to go with the maple syrup chicken and roast potatoes she just made. That’s what I would rather do. Just have a good meal together with my family. Sitting at the table and laughing at the silliness of my daughters. Making funny noises and joking with their mother. Good times. Me, my family and a good meal. I would rather have a good meal. No need for anger here.

But how can I? How can I just have a meal when I know that somewhere out there in Zambia is a family arguing about how they divide the last of the nsima. Maybe this will be the last meal they share together. Because tomorrow brings no food and no hope. Maybe tomorrow the kids will have to go down to the charity handing out food and slip some away for ma and pa back home. But will grandma make it? Can she wait another 24 hours before she gets a little something to eat. No laughing or poking of fun. Not when the bones on their bodies are poking hard at their skin. How can there be no anger?

I would rather watch telly. Just vegetate and do nothing. Stare blankly at the screen. Flip channels because I can’t decide between CSI Miami or Kitchen Nightmares. Or maybe I should watch that Bond movie I taped? Or watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King again? Yeah. That’s what I want to do. Just stare at the telly and think of nothing. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I stare at the telly when tonight someone might be staring at the barrel of a gun somewhere in the Congo? No channels for them to watch. Maybe tonight will be the last time they see anything. I can change the channel but they can’t change their lives. I can play with the remote but they are here. Waiting for me to think of them. Always hiding somewhere in my conscious. Waiting to flip the channel of my brain to their station. No static. Just their lives waiting to be changed while they live a reality life. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather read a good book. Maybe just finish one of the many I am reading right now. Should I go with Mao and his killing or read about hope through the eyes of Obama? Maybe just get away from all that stuff and laugh at Bill Bryson telling me about A Short History of Nearly Everything. Aah. That what I want to do. Just read my book and let my mind slip away for a little bit. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I read a book when tomorrow the children will go and work those cocoa fields? The pages they flip are the pages of their life going past. One empty page after the other. Or maybe it is a horror. The horror of their lives. Living a Stephen King life larger than even he can imagine. But maybe some khat will help numb the pain. At least it will take away the glint in their eyes. And the empty pages of their life can be seen in their empty stares. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather play with my kids. Play outside like the crazy gang we are. Wild splashing we call swimming down at the lake. And go down that snowy hill when winter comes. Just me and my girls. Crazy, crazy, crazy. All I want is to hear their laughing and more laughing at their silly dad. Egging them on. Come on! You can do it girl! That’s what I would much rather want. Me and my crazy girls. Having fun. No anger here.

But how can I? When the other kids are running away from the warlord down the road. Playing dodgeball with the bullets. Not a sound of joy and belly laughs to be heard coming from their mouths. Just cries of pain as the bullets hit. Lucky if it misses. Dodge, dodge, dodge. That the games they play in the Congo. How can there be no anger?

I would must rather lie next to my wife. Falling asleep and hearing her breathe next to me. I can feel the stress of the day just slip away. Here is where I belong. Always telling her how much I love her. I can never say it too much or too often. And I run home because that is where I want to be. Just there next to her. My lovely wife. The one who gives me meaning. No anger here.

But how can I? When the women in Africa have to walk miles and miles just to get a drop of water for their homes. Every day. Down to the river and back. In the rush forgetting to boil it clean. And they see their families die around them. From a simple thing like drinking dirty water. How can I look at my wife and not see those women carry Africa on their backs being beaten and beaten and beaten. Day in and day out. Rape and murder. That’s what lies next to them at night. Death and destruction giving them meaning. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather just go on holiday. Maybe take a trip to Europe and visit those fancy French. Some cheese and red wine. Aah, that’s the life. Or laugh and point at Mickey and Minnie down at Disney. Maybe get away for just a week or two and visit my friend back home. Another trip to Bucks County would be nice. Just me and my three girls. Hanging out in New Hope for a drink and maybe a small piece of memory for the mantle. No anger here.

But how can I? When the only break my people get is another trade deal that fails. Or another empty promise for those dying of aids or malaria. Or the breaking of another leg as the torture continues in countries down South and East. But also here in the North and West. Broken promises to go with their broken lives. How can there be no anger?

I really just want to hang with my friends. Or drink a coffee by myself. Sip by sip. A braai and a good old fire. Learn to play the guitar like I’ve always wanted. Or write that bloody book that’s been bugging me for years. Save some money and retire early. Go for a drive in my car to watch the leaves go all rainbow in fall. The good things. That’s all I ever really want to do. Take it easy and stay easy. A smile, a laugh and good times.

I don’t want anger. I hate anger. It’s not nice. And it is not me.

Why am I angry?

I know happiness. I know what it is. I have it. Oh boy, do I have it. But I can’t enjoy it. At least not the way I want to enjoy it… Fully. I want to give myself totally to happiness. I want to live my happy days by throwing myself at it. Just living it 24/7.

That’s what pisses me off. That I can’t just enjoy life because of bigots. Because of liberty for some. Equality for those who can afford it. Freedom for those who were born free. Justice for those at the top.

I am angry because I can’t enjoy my life thanks to oppression of others. My right to have a fun time is shot to hell because of the rights of others being shot to hell. Bullet by bullet. Every warlord pisses me off because they remind me of what I am missing because of them. They are taking away my happiness because they are taking away the happiness of others.

I am angry because my friends and people I don’t even know can’t just love who they want. I love my wife. I love my wife. But the more I love her the more I am reminded of those who can’t love the way we love. That their love is somehow less meaningful than our love. I am pissed at bigots taking away happiness because they are taking away the rights of others.

I am pissed and angry for purely selfish reasons. I don’t want to fight for the rights of kids to have a shot at a life. I don’t want to fight for justice in the world trade and aid system. I don’t want to fight for the freedom of African women. I don’t want to fight for the equality of my gay friends who want to get married. I don’t want to fight for the liberty of the slaves working the sweatshops or farms in China or Africa. I don’t want to do all this crap. I want nothing to do with any of this.

I. Do. Not. Want. To. Do. This.

I just want to sit back and enjoy my life. Just me, my girls and my friends. Happy times. Good times.

But I can’t. And that is what pisses me off. That is what makes me angry. That is what makes me the Angry African.

I can only go do nothing when there is nothing to be done. When others can afford to do nothing. When everyone has a shot. You bloody people. With your rights and freedoms and liberty and equality and justice. Just have it already.

Fuck. Dammit. And everything and anything else that go with that.

I am because we are. Ubuntu.

I can only stop caring about what to watch on telly when there is nothing to care about. I can only be happy watching my kids go crazy when you have a shot at happiness. I can only have the liberty to drink my coffee sip after slow sip when you have liberty. I can only have my braai in peace when you have peace. I can only be the equal of my wife when we all are equal. I can only have justice when you have justice.  My freedom is your freedom…

I can only be free when you are free.

I can only be me when you can be you.

Until then… I am the Angry African.

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We won and we lost. Obama winning helped to put one piece of injustice to sleep. But injustice is still with us. Discrimination is still lurking in the laws. Liberty is still for the select few. Freedom is still not for all of us. Equality still hunts us down like we were on cotton plantations.

Because “they” are still not allowed to get married. “They” are still held as second class citizens. Tell me? Who the hell are “they”?

Bullshit. Bullshit I tell you.

It’s like playing that whack-the-mole game. You hit one piece of bigotry on the head and another one pops up. Whack! Whack! Whack! It never stops. But unlike the game, we can’t pull the plug on bigotry. Their batteries get charged by their own hatred.

Look. I am REALLY getting sick and tired of this. There is no “they”.

There. Is. No. They.

There is only us. “They” are you who are bigots. The only people who are “they” are those who preach hatred. Hatred for gays, hatred for Africans, hatred for African-Americans, hatred for rednecks, hatred for Jews, hatred for Muslims, hatred for Christians, hatred for… and more hatred and more hatred and more hatred.

You! Yes you! Bigot! That one who hates gays. Or who doesn’t want “them” to have the same rights as everyone else. All that separates you from burning “them” on a cross is some wood and matches. All that separates you from strapping a bomb to your chest and blowing them up is a book in your hand and a different language. Bigotry is bigotry. Hatred is hatred. It’s only the degrees that differ.

You think you are so different from those who kill innocent people elsewhere in the name of a jihad? You think you are so different from those policemen who killed Biko? You think you are so different from the Christians who murdered during the Crusade? You think you are so different from those who flew those planes? You think you are so different from those who kept slaves on the plantations? Who burned people at stakes? You think you are better than a Hutu or a Tutsi? You think you are better than the priests leading Jesus to the cross?

You are not. You are no better. You are separated only by the degrees of action. You speak the same language. You spew the same hatred. You can cloak it in nice words. But so did Hitler. So did Pontius Pilot. So did PW Botha. So did Mao. So did Stalin. So did everyone who believed they were better than “the others”.

You are no better than those who killed and murdered. You are them. Separated by a small degree of heat. A small step. One action separates you. Just one. They are your brothers. Your keepers. In thought and prayer.

Don’t ever call me straight. I am not straight. I am me. Who I sleep with and who I love has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with my bad fashion sense. It has nothing to do with my anger. It has nothing to do with defining who I am inside.

I have no choice about who I am. I am because we are. I have no choice about being straight. I have no choice about being gay. I am just me. Like the color of my skin is not my choice. And my gender is not my choice. Or where I was born was not my choice. It is who I am. We should not be defined by these parts of who we are. We should be defined by our love and compassion for others and for ourselves.

Hell, if I had a choice I would not have chosen to be a pale heterosexual male. Except for the fact that it helped me find the love of my life it is nothing to be proud of. It is nothing special. In fact, I don’t like many of those who look like me. Hitler, Bush, Stalin, Verwoerd – all white males proclaiming to be straight. Too many bigots wear the same “clothes”.

I don’t ever want to be defined as heterosexual. I don’t. Because I am not. I am just a person who met another person and who loves. It could have been anyone. It just happened to be someone from the opposite gender. I didn’t make the choice to love her. It just happened.

That’s all I want the world to have. Just to feel the same love I feel. I don’t care who you are. Jew, Christian, gay, Muslim, straight, male, female, black, white, Chinese, Russian. I don’t care.

I. Don’t. Care.

All I want is “us” to all feel love. And see a better future together. As us. Not as “them” and “us”. There is only us in this world. All of us.

There is no such thing as a “gay issue”. Any injustice is my issue. Our injustice. Any limitation on freedom is a limitation of my freedom. Our freedom. Any inequality takes away my equality. Our equality. Any time the liberty of others are restricted then my liberty is restricted. Our liberty. Any place love is threatened my love is threatened. Our love. There can be no “others”. There can be no “gay issue”. There is only my issues. And our issues. We all have freedom, liberty, equality, justice, life, love and opportunity. Or I have none. I am not gay. But I am gay. 

I am the “gay issue”. We are the “gay issue”.

Because… I am because we are.

All of us. I am us. I am the “we”.

We will not fail each other. Because there is no gay issue. There is only an us issue.

 

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A few other posts of mine looking at the “gay issue”:

The “gay problem” or The Idiot’s Guide to Bigotry

The Gay Agenda

And one more thing

How to solve the “gay marriage problem”

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A friend of mine just passed me this link to something Keith Olbermann had to say on gay marriages. I missed it completely as I don’t watch enough telly. But it seems as if Keith and myself have more in common than what I thought. Go watch what he had to say. It is long. But it is worth it. His questions are very similar to mine. Just more eloquently put…

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