Apartheid


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.

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Not this time...

Not this time...

Today my beautiful country will go an vote in the general election. I won’t. I could if I really wanted to but I decided not to vote. Why? Well, two reasons really.

Firstly, I don’t believe that South African living abroad should vote. WTF? Yes, you heard me right. I don’t think they should allow me and the others outside South Africa to vote. And no, it’s not because so many South Africans abroad moan and bitches so much about South Africa. It’s a fair point though… Why should you vote if all you want is the “good old days” of Apartheid and/or have nothing good to say about the “new” South Africa? But hell, everyone should be allowed their opinion so I won’t hold it against them or withhold their right to vote. For me it is a simple matter of economics.

We are not a rich country by any stretch of the imagination. Somewhere in the middle. Not Gabon but not Luxembourg either. I just see every single Rand (or Dollar) being spend on having someone vote in a foreign outpost in Vietnam or somewhere as a waste. That money could provide drugs for someone dying of Aids. Or maybe help put another cop on the street to stop the rape. Or feed a hungry street kid. Why should the money go to a few South Africans who could “afford” to go overseas? And if you do it for one person in one country then you have to do it for all of them in every single country. You can’t just pick the UK and the US because there are so many South Africans there. Nope – that would be discriminating against the minority hanging out in Venezuela or Fiji somewhere. You know how much money is going to be wasted giving those 16,000 odd people the chance to vote? Yes, that is how many South African abroad registered to vote. Millions of Rands going to a few…

And don’t give me that crap about the government wasting money on other things like the stupid arms deal or some big fancy party. Remember what your mother used to say? “Are you going to jump in the fire if they do?” Two wrongs don’t make a right. And two stupid actions don’t make either of them right. They are wrong and so are you. At least stop moaning about their waste if you do go and vote or fought for your right to vote in a foreign country. You are part of the waste cycle now. I hope you are proud.

Talking about the South African government…

My second reason…

I have been an ANC supporter for most of my life. Proudly so. And that is why I can’t go and vote this time. I have always voted for them but no more…

I don’t like Zuma. He is a bad reflection on the “struggle”. I remember listening to him at a COSATU conference many years back. Man… Man, man, man. I looked at my “comrades” and we just shook our heads. He was one stupid dude. Sorry to say it but that was what we thought back then and we said it out loud. And I am ashamed that my same COSATU buddies are supporting him. A snake oil seller. You’ve been duped brothers and sisters. Hum… I mean comrades.

I know the ANC is never about a single leader. It has always been about the movement. The movement to bring an end to Apartheid and give every South African the same rights. But leaders do play a role. They lead our people. Zuma? How can he lead us? He is a populist who showed his ignorance during the rape case against him. Yes he got away with that one. And even if he is innocent – tell me how can we make someone our President who thinks that washing yourself afterwards will stop the spread of Aids? Oh, he didn’t deny sleeping with the young girl who was a family friend. He just said it was a “mutual thing”. Real proud guys. Real proud…

And maybe he got a “get out of jail card” with the corruption charges. Maybe he didn’t take any money. Maybe Mbeki planned it all. So what? Being innocent doesn’t make him a leader. It just makes him innocent. Zuma is no leader. Not a leader to be proud of. Not a leader who can really carry the hope of our young nation on his shoulders.

So that’s why I don’t want to vote. I am an ANC man through and through. The DA is a bunch of weaklings that reminds me of those yapping little dogs. Lots of noise but you know they don’t have any substance. I’ve had the “pleasure” to work with a few of them and boy… Let me tell you… They are lightweight and “skelm“. (Skelm – not to be trusted, devious.) I don’t trust them as far as what I can throw a rock at them.

It leaves me with very few choices. The PAC doesn’t mean anything anymore. A leadership vacuum that slurps up the dirt left behind. Patricia could do it but she is a one-woman show. UDM… Bantu… Puh-leeze. An ex-General from the homelands? Get real! COPE? Maybe. Just maybe. I like Terror. He’s a good one. But I don’t know enough about them right now. They are still young. Hopefully the true soul of the ANC. Hopefully the new ANC going back to our roots. But it’s too early to tell. For now I must sit on the sidelines and watch my once proud movement slowly kill itself. Falling off the moral high ground. And it’s a long way down.

I love my country. I loved the ANC (and maybe one day we can meet up again.) But not Zuma. Not for me. Not for my country. Not now. Not ever.

No more “Long Live the ANC! ” or “Viva ANC!” or “Amandla ANC!” for me. I’ll sit and watch and see if the soul is still there. I don’t see it from over here. But you never know. You just never know. We always said that the struggle was bigger than one person. Let’s see if the ANC still believes in that. I’ll be waiting…

pw_botha

This is going to be a long post – sorry. But it is about two people I met that made me rethink my definition of what evil might be. Two guys I always thought were the definition of evil. But I met them both briefly (and “stalked” one) and that made me question the meaning of evil. So I have to tell you about them to get to my story. Sorry – be patient. You know I am not into short blogs in any case!

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The Big Crocodile (1991):

One of the most evil men in the history of South Africa was PW Botha – Pieter Willem Botha. He was the last Prime Minister of the Apartheid Regime – and their first President of power. Oh man he was bad, bad news. Under his “command” more than 2,000 people died at the hand of the “security forces” (Security? As if they were protecting anything valuable). And more than 25,000 people were detained without being charged and often tortured (this last one sounds oddly familiar to recent US policies – except for the number of people). While he was Prime Minister in South Africa he also started the South African secret nuclear weapons programme with Israel and established the notorious police counter-insurgency unit – Koevoet (Crowbar). Yes, he was bad, bad news.

He was a racist to the core. Here, read this and see what you think. In his own words, “Blacks look like human beings and act like human beings do not necessarily make them sensible human beings. Hedgehogs are not porcupines and lizards are not crocodiles simply because they look alike. If God wanted us to be equal to the Black, he would have created us all of a uniform colour“. I hope you don’t need more convincing that PW stood for “Pure White” or “Pretty Wretched”.

He wasn’t just a racist and killer though. He was also a coward. Of sorts. He started his career by supporting the South African Nazi movement in WWII. But then changed his mind when he saw that they were going to lose. So he is cowardly in his warped convictions as well. Just a bad man all together. As evil as you can get. But to the Afrikaners who supported him during Apartheid – he was their bread and Botha. He meant everything to them because he kept them in power. And kept them “safe and seperate”. With a strong hand on the rifle. Of course you won’t find any of them today. It’s like asking the school class who had the “accident” in the bathroom – no one is willing to admit that it was them in public.

We called him “Groot Krokodil” in South Africa. Meaning Big Crocodile. Mostly because he will take a bite at everything and his skin was as thick as the skin of a crocodile. And he was pretty ugly as well. Just like a crocodile. We didn’t shed any crocodile tears when he died on 31 October 2006. No tears for him. He was a bad dream from our past. A past we didn’t want to be reminded of. And I met the man. Briefly. But I was also a bit of a stalker in my own way.

My wife’s father used to own a local car dealership in the town close to where Groot Krokodil lived. And he used to come and buy a new car there every few years. And with our luck we were there when he came the last time. My wife was working at the garage during the university break and I came up to visit her. And I worked at the garage as well. Worked at the forecourt – or petrol pumps. Yes, he owned both a car dealership and a gas station. All I did was sit in the forecourt and enjoy the scenery. Filling up cars as they came back from the beach or taxis taking people home. It was fun. I sat outside in the summer sunshine and enjoyed working there. I got to see my future wife often enough – and that was a major bonus.

I went inside to say hello – she was working the telephones. And we hang out – not to make out. Not with her dad there! I had my own nickname for him – but not for public consumption! He is an unbelievably nice guy. I really love and like him. Good guy who always pulls the mickey out of me. Hey, I took him to his first Bruins game (and mine) when they came to visit. But, again, I digress.

I was hanging out with her when he walked in. PW. He was old. Really old. This was back in December 1991. The ANC was unbanned and Mandela was free – but we were still negotiating the terms of our new democracy. It sounds odd – the terms of our democracy. But back then the Apartheid ruling party, the National Party, still believed that democracy was too good to share with everybody. PW wasn’t in charge anymore. He suffered a mild stroke in January 1989. He resigned as leader of the National Party in February, hoping that his hand-picked man will take over. But the National Party elected FW de Klerk as the National Party leader in February and as President in March. PW Botha refused to go. Typical. But by August he was completely alienated and forced to go. Oh man, you should have heard his speech. It was full of hatred for everyone – especially those in the National Party leadership. But he was history by now. A few months later FW would free Nelson Mandela and unban the ANC. PW was a bitter old man by the time he walked into the dealership.

He came in to service his car. My future wife and I walked into my father-in-law’s office and we walked right into PW. They knew how I felt about this guy so there was no way we were going to hang out with him! My father-in-law introduced us and PW started asking my future wife what she was studying. He studied at the same university as us when he was young – Stellenbosch University. My wife looked at him and gave him a little knowing smile (her I-dare-you-to-go-there smile). And then she said slowly, “Political Science”. He blinked and pulled his head back even further – as if he smelled something bad. He stared at her for a little while and then said quietly, “Another cat amongst the pigeons”.

I knew that look in my future wife’s eyes. It was a challenge. A challenge saying – come-on-you-want-some-of-this? You think I am the Angry African? Ha. Don’t piss her off. She is the tough one. I knew that it was time to get her out. He was an old old man. And a stupid man. An easy target. And he would underestimate her and get his backside kicked. So I made my excuses and got her out of there. But it wasn’t the end of me and PW.

I knew where he lived. Every now and again we would drive there and stop a bit down the road where he lived in a quiet dead-end road. Dead-end road made sense for a dead-end human being. And I would wait in that car to see him come out for his daily walk. Security police and all. Him, his wife and their dogs. Little brakkies en mat-kakkers. Little dogs – useless dogs for a guy like him. And we’ll sit in the car and stare at this old man, his wife and their dogs walking down the road. He was getting really old now. Walking with a walking stick and slowly moving along. Playfully patting the dogs and his wife with his walking stick. Like any old man just taking a walk knowing that it is one of those last pleasures left in life. Just an old man walking the dogs and loving his wife with the sun shining on his back. He wasn’t much of a crocodile anymore. Just a slow shuffle of a walk like a wounded crocodile trying to get back into the water. But a toothless one.

The Guguleto 7 (2002):

We were down at the beach at Betty’s Bay with our friends. They had a place there. Or rather, her dad had a place there that they used. We had fun. The girls were playing on the beach looking for shells and playing in the little pools. We had a few beers and some crayfish and a braai. It was fun. Just the perfect weekend. Away from the craziness at work. Just the six of us hanging out and talking crap. Yes, Oosie and me knew how to talk crap. We were very different – me an activist and him a cop, but we could talk crap for hours and hours. Amuse ourselves with stories that just kept on piling up with the sh*t we spoke. My wife and his wife would just look at us and laugh at the nonsense we could talk without any signs of slowing down. But it was time to go and stock up. So we took a drive to Kleinmond (“Small Mouth” refering to the mouth of the river) – a town just a few miles down the road.

I love Kleinmond. I have good memories of it. My ouma (grandmother) used to live there and I remember going there to visit. And she used to make me roosterkoek (type of bread) on the open fire. She made the best roosterkoek ever. With butter from the farm melting as she took it off the fire and broke it open with her bare hands. I was young when she died. But I remember her. This fragile old woman who used to smell like fresh bread and hugged me when she gave me those roosterkoek. I loved my ouma. Again, I digress.

We drove into Kleinmond and bought our “things” (beer and… hum… more beer. Oh, and wood for the braai). Oosie decided to take us for a drive through town. Down to the beach area to show us where they fish. We drove slowly as there were loads of people hanging around. Oosiestopped the car as an older guy walked up to the car waving. He looked like a typical newly retired guy. A wide open friendly face with not a worry in the world. They spoke and laughed a bit about some guy they both know who got into trouble with the fisheries inspector again and shared news on how their families were doing. I was between Oosie and the guy leaning in the window talking. I can remember his face well. He had laugh lines all over his face. He looked like a guy I can sit and have a beer with. And share crap stories with. He had shorts, an open buttoned checked shirt, socks with sandals, and a fisherman’s hat on. Typical South African though – he had a paunch from the beer and meat – what we call a boep. He could be anyone’s dad. He just looked and sounded like a really good guy. A family man with friends and stories to share around the fire.

Oosie and the guy said goodbye and we drove off. Oosie knew my politics, but we hardly spoke about it. We didn’t share the same views on everything. But then, I never let politics alone define my relationships and friendships. If I did I would have very few friends left in this world. Anyway, Oosie was quiet for a bit while we drove off. After a bit he asked me whether I knew who the guy was. I said no – but obviously a friend of Oosie’s family. He looked at me and said, “He was in charge of the Guguleto 7 hit squad”. Oh man, it was like a ton of bricks hit me. Stunned.

The Guguleto 7 were 7 guys from the ANC who got brutally murdered by the a secret police hit squad in South Africa in 1986. This police hit squad operated from a secret location called Vlakplaas. The most evil things happened there. Murder, executions, torture, rape – you name it and they did it. It was the centre of all things evil under Apartheid. The Guguleto 7 were ANC supporters who got lured in by the hit squad and were brutally murdered. For ANC supporters (including myself) the Guguleto 7 became a rallying cry for the murdering of our people to stop. It united people against Apartheid. And hardened the resistance to Apartheid. And this guy was in charge of the hit squad who murdered the Guguleto 7. He was what I saw as the epitome of evil. Leading a hit squad. And now I knew who he was.

That was the problem. I thought he was a good guy. Someone I can hang around with. Someone to sit with around the fire and share a few beers and talk crap. How do you hate someone you liked 5 minutes ago? But the same someone who you hated for 16 long years?

PW and the nameless monster (I never wanted to know his name). The two of them taught me a lesson on evil. People do evil, evil deeds. But somehow they still manage to look in the mirror and believe in themselves. Bigots yes. But they are not the woman beaters, serial killers, child abusers or rapist we think they are. Evil people are people who do the same things we do. They are never the obvious bad people that stand out in a crowd. Or who we hope they are. They love and live their lives in very similar ways we do. Talk crap with friends while having a beer around the fire. Taking their loved ones and the dogs for a walk. Loving their kids and wives and enjoying retirement. Enjoying the sunshine and open spaces. Evil people are normal people. They are around us and they are in us. You will walk past them in the streets without looking twice. They can sit on the other side of the table and you might never know. They can lean in and talk to you with a genuine smile on their face. And that makes it hard to hate. And knowing that they live lives just like us. When you have met them and stalked them. And when you have liked them. That makes it difficult. How do they do it? How do they sleep at night and still laugh and love. How do they do it when they do the things they do? And how do we hate them when we see their other side? It’s not that easy…

I knew the grandson of PW. I knew him before I knew who his grandfather was. He was at university with me and although not an activist we still shared friends and good times. And even when I knew who his grandad was it didn’t change our relationship. Just every now and again I would rant against PW and his evil ways and he would go quiet and say in a whisper, “But he is still my grandad”. That’s the thing. We can hate the sin. We must hate the sin. But it is difficult to hate the sinner. Especially if you know them and have seen them live their lives the way we all do. It takes a special person to hate those they know. Evil. Evil is evil. But just not always expressed the way we expect or hope.

I don’t know. I don’t know much about handling evil. But I know we walk with crocodiles everyday. We just don’t always know it. And they don’t always look like crocodiles.

walk20away201920x2026_5

You know about my father and me. We didn’t get along. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t do much together. None of that “dad and son” stuff. We might not even have liked each other much. There was bad blood. Lots of it. And still I learned so much from the man. Even when he didn’t mean it and I did…

We had many arguments. Many, many arguments. Almost always about politics. He was on the side of Apartheid and I was on the other side fighting what and who he stood for. He was a bigot and I was always happy to point it out to him. And I was just as stubborn as him. I refused to budge. I refused to try and understand. I refused to give him one single little bit of ground. I refused to give him or what he stood for the benefit of doubt for even a split second. He was wrong and so was everything he stood for. No movement on bigotry. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. I was right about Apartheid being wrong. Why should I move even an inch for any form of bigotry? I still won’t. I refuse to compromise just because it might make people feel better. Or because it would be the nice thing to do. I won’t. Not with bigots.

And I do expect people to point out my own bigotry. Trust me, I have a thick skin and I am a big boy – I can handle it. It’s the only way I can ever answer The Question…

Anyway, back to me and my father…

Back when we still spoke we had almost daily fights about Apartheid and the fight against Apartheid. He called those who fought the Apartheid government terrorists – Nelson Mandela to Breyten Breytenbach and everyone from the ANC to COSATU. Yes, we fought like hell. It eventually tore us apart completely. There was a moment when I just gave up. And there was a time that I realized he just taught me the biggest lesson of all. He didn’t know it but it has driven me since…

It was just one of those days again. We were arguing like hell. I can’t even remember what triggered this one. The ANC was already unbanned. It could have been him calling Nelson Mandela racist names again. Or him bitching about anyone who was black and who didn’t agree with his warped view of the world. Actually, you didn’t have to be black to be hated by him. Even Reverand Beyers Naudé was a terrorist in his eyes.  But we were off on our usual little boat ride down the rough river of arguing.

My poor mother was just sitting there half in shock as always. Every now and again trying to calm us down. But she knew it was a losing battle. I was never going to keep quiet. Not anymore. And it gave me a chance to fight him on every issues that I ever thought he was wrong about – from Apartheid to my mother. So once I started I would never let go. And he egged me on by pushing one button after the other. We were predictable…

He was on about the Apartheid National Party giving him a job and me an education. He was shouting at me that the ANC and Nelson Mandela will always be terrorists. I was throwing it back in his face that he must live with the fact that we have won. That it is over. You lost your right to bigotry and murder. No more. We won, you lost. And, to rub it in, that if Nelson Mandela is a terrorist then so is his own son.

It shut him for a little bit. He stared at me for a moment. I could see he was ready to explode. He was about to say something. And then it came. The question. I popped the question without even thinking…

“Tell me dad, what did you do?” (“Sê my pa, what het jy gedoen?”)

It shut him up. He had a puzzled look in his face. Not sure what I meant. That’s when I hit him with the meaning of my question…

“What have you ever done to make this country a better place? Where were you when they were murdering people? Where were you when all the killings were taking place? What did you do to stop all the madness? What did you do to end all the hate and bigotry dad? Where is the love and the peace and the freedom dad? Tell me dad, what have you ever done to make this world a better place? For me. For my sisters and mother. And for the kids we will one day have? Tell me dad, what did you do with your life?”

I only stopped when I saw his face change. I can’t even describe to you what he looked like. That expressions…

It was as if the life was sucked out of him. Like an animal in complete fear of his life and knowing that this is the end. That he has no more to offer. That everything is empty. That all that was left was this shell of a man standing in front of me. The look of a man knowing that everything he has ever done is meaningless and worthless in the eyes of his son. The look in his eyes was of a man knowing his life and what he stood for meant nothing to his son. Nothing. Like him. His life. Meaningless. All in a single expression.

it is difficult… I can’t really describe to you what he looked like…

But I will never forget it. That look in his eyes. It was something that made me shut up. I knew there was nothing more to say. I knew he was not my father anymore. He was… He was… Nothing…

Because his expression also told me something else. It betrayed him. It told me the answer…

Nothing…

I looked at him for a little while and said it one more time softly – almost a whisper, “Tell me dad, what have you ever done?”

His expression also betrayed something else…

It wasn’t just the question that cut him up. It wasn’t just his lack of answers that drained is soul. No. It was also my expression that sucked the life out of him. The expression of someone that felt nothing anymore. The look of someone who knew his father no more. The face of someone who knew a common love no more. The questions from someone who believed in his own blood no more. The end of the blood running through our veins. He knew that my own questions and eyes told him that we were no more…

That was what he saw… And what he heard…

And then I turned around and walked away. Leaving him there to… I don’t know… I just left him there without thinking about what I wanted from him. I didn’t want anything anymore. I didn’t need anything anymore. I got what I wanted…

I will never forget his face. I still see that expression. Daily. It drives me. That single question and that single expression drives me daily. Each and every single day. Because I never want to be asked that question. Never.

Maybe I am over sensitive to what is going on around me. Maybe I love my wife and kids a little more than what I would have if I didn’t know about that question. Maybe I get angry about bigotry and injustice and inequality more than I would have if I didn’t know about that expression. And maybe I see the beauty around me a bit clearer thanks to the face I saw that day. I don’t know. But I know this…

I never want any of my kids to ever ask me that question…

And I never want them to look at me the way I looked at my dad that day…

dont-ask

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Note: I should have added that I did make peace with my dad shortly before he died. I do understand where he came from even though I never agreed with his politics or the way he treated some people. But we did make some form of peace. Do I wish our relationship was different? I am not sure because I would not be who I am without him being who he was. I am at peace with how it all turned out – it could have been better but it could have been worse. I focus on the here and now. The question I asked him doesn’t drive me a in conscious way where I think of them daily. It is only when I think and reflect on what I do that I recognise some of the events that played a key role – and this was one of those key events.

looking-back

Do you ever look back? Look back and remember those faces and places of your past? I look back and often realize that there were people in my past that don’t realize how much I learned from them. Or how much they meant to me. It’s not that I miss them. Or that we left on bad terms. People I worked with and people I was friends with or I met at school. It just fizzled out. No harm done and no bad feelings. But I do wish I can go back in time and tell them what amazing people they were/are. That I liked them then because they made a difference even though they might never have known. Even though I didn’t always know it at the time. We don’t always stop to tell people that. It’s not bad. It’s just life. But I do wish I could reach back and tell them I loved them (or at least liked them), that they were cool and that I still think of them even though I have lost touch with them.

There are too many people I would like to reach back to. And for the sake of a happy marriage, I’ll leave all my ex girlfriends out of this! (“How you doing?” – in my best Joey voice.) Life’s been an education. Some people played big parts with short sentences. Let me tell you about one such short sentence…

I’ve said before that my path has been an education. I wasn’t born to be this way. From a racist family to fighting on the side of justice. But it wasn’t that much of a journey. It has been no more complex than an amoeba really. Once you set the path you can’t turn around. It’s just a ride. But I really didn’t have a “moment” that made me “see the light”. It was little things. One sentence stands out though. The first time I realized there might be another story out there that I haven’t been told.

It was just a passing comment. Almost a whisper. I don’t think the person who said it realized what they were doing. I would like to think they did, but it was just a comment. Thrown my direction and then they walked on. Or told me to keep on walking.

He was my history teacher. And he was a short little shit. Funny as hell. Always walked around with a little cane ready to give you one on the backside or on your hands. Mister U.E. Grant. I still have no idea what the hell U or E stood for. Anyway… He was always walking around throwing questions at us. Left, right and centre. I loved it. I wasn’t a great student, but I loved history. The stories of those who won. The battles. And the lessons. Where we came from. And how we landed up where we were back then.

Actually, it was the last one that wasn’t answered in our history classes. You weren’t told of the ANC. Or of Nelson Mandela. Or the oppression of my fellow South Africans. They were not only banned from the country, they were also banned from our books. So we were taught this history of the brave Afrikaners. Half of it was over-glorifying what they achieved and the other half was just plain bullshit. But I didn’t know. I just saw it in the books. And books don’t lie, do they?

I can’t even remember what we were being taught on that day. Something about South African history – maybe a story of some brave Afrikaner fighting the British masters. Maybe the Bezuidenhout brothers fighting at Slagtersnek (Slaughters Hill). I was so into that. Frederik Bezuidenhout fighting the English masters and standing up for the Afrikaner. Or at least that was what was written in our history books…

No one told us that the language Afrikaans wasn’t even established or spoken yet. Or that the concept Afrikaner wasn’t even close to being a seed to be planted yet. Or that this “Afrikaner” hero was actually married to a Xhosa woman. White wasn’t as white as they told us. Oh, they did say that he actually got his ass kicked by the English – killed in the hills. Anyway…

I thought he was a hero back then. Now I know he was, but not for the reasons that the Apartheid government told us. But because what old U.E. told me.

As always, I was late in getting my bag packed for the next class. The rest of the class was already on their way out. I grabbed my bag and headed for the door. And U.E. looked up from his desk and shouted, “Mister C! Come here for a minute.” (Meneer C, kom gou hier.)

And then he said it…

“There is another history of South Africa that you won’t find on the pages of these books.”

Just that. Nothing more. No further explaining or advice or anything. Just that simple one line. Actually, it was more like this:

“Daar is ‘n ander geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika wat jy nie in die bladsye van hierdie boeke sal vind nie.”

But I thought I should translate it for you…

I looked at him and wanted to ask him what he meant, but he just shook his head and told me to get going. That was it. Nothing more. Just that one sentence. Make no mistake, I don’t think he was a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. My school was as conservative and right wing as you can get in Apartheid South Africa – and proudly so. But he still said it. I still don’t have a clue why he did it. But he did. And it never left me from that minute on. It still lives with me today. Never forget history, not even while we are busy making it today.

I would love to think that he somehow knew I liked questioning things. I was already known at school for poking fun at politicians. But I knew nothing about real politics. Oh, I asked questions in class – trying to find out more. But I had no political knowledge or understanding or any liberal leanings. Nada. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Really.

Maybe he liked the fact that I was willing to stand up for things when I saw an injustice. Whether it was a kid being bullied or just helping a newbie. Or the time I made everyone cut their hair off (a number 1 cut) because I thought the hair rules were stupid. My hair was way short and I kept on failing hair inspection every single Monday. So I got (read “forced”) everyone at the hostel to get a number 1 cut – administered by myself. Of course I was called to the office of the headmaster the next day… And Mr Grant was there as well. The headmaster looked at me and asked if I had anything to say. I was about to say something when Mr Grant (standing behind the headmaster) just made a silent “shh” sound with his mouth and shook his head for me to be quiet. I kept my mouth shut – Yeah, that was something new for me as well! But I was lucky, the headmaster was going to kick me out of school if I opened my mouth that day. I broke so many rules in one go. Oh, apart from cutting their hair myself and a few other things, I also managed to cut the hair shorter than what was allowed under the rules…

Yes, maybe Mr Grant saw something. I hope he did. I didn’t. But he planted a seed that has steadily grown over these years.

Those words stuck though. I kept on digging deeper and deeper to try and find more answers. Nothing in the library. Nothing at home. My friends knew nothing. No one was telling me. But I kept on digging. And I kept on asking. And slowly but surely the answers started coming. That’s a story for another day. You know, my digging and finding a few answers along the way. But I am still digging. Still looking. All thanks to Mr U.E. Grant. Whether he meant it or not – He helped start this journey. So go and blame him!

Thank you Mr U.E. Grant.

I don’t think he’ll remember me. But I’ll never forget him. Because I’ve never stopped looking. Have you?

thank-you-mister-grant

mamaafrica

Mama Africa died. The voice of the people. The song of the people. She is no more. But her music lives on. And with it… Her love for Africa and its people.

This is from one of her first songs that the world got to see. Hum… She was hot! Mama Africa singing Pata Pata.

The one song every bloody Souf Efrikan whitie knows… (And she is still hot!) Miriam Makeba singing The Click Song. (With a bit of an intro into Xhosa and politics – sorry, I had to use a new link so the politics got lost. Someone removed the original from YouTube!)

And this one has a bit of a long intro but it hits you hard when she starts singing. Man… Did I mention that she is hot! Sinead O’Connor of Africa singing Amampondo.

But in the end Mama Africa was about so much more than her music. Miriam Makeba made music. Mama Africa spoke for her people. A glimpse of what she had to say to the UN back in 1963. Being Mama Africa…

Her citizenship was revoked shortly after this. She couldn’t go back to her country. To her people. But she always fought on. Always for justice. Always for her people. The people of Africa. And her people from South Africa. From fighting for justice when she married (and later separated from) Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael to receiving the UN Dag Hammerskjöld Peace Prize. She always fought for justice. Always.

But she saw her country united at last. She came back in 1990. To her home. To her people. And this song was made for her to sing. (The intro is played by Hugh Masekela. Another legend and another ex-husband of Mama Africa.)

Mama Africa never forgot about the fight for justice. Never. She didn’t die at home. She died in Castel Volturno in Italy, in the evening of 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation. Camorra finances itself through drug trafficking, extortion, protection and racketeering. It is the oldest organized criminal organization in Italy. Mama Africa… Mama World… Mama Ubuntu… No matter where you were, she was with you in your fight for justice, freedom, liberty and equality for all.

She died just after singing Pata Pata. She died on stage.

In the words of Mama Africa, “I will sing until the last day of my life.”

So she is gone. But live on. Always.

Viva Mama Africa! Viva! Long Live Miriam Makeba! Long Live!

makeba_miriam

 

I come from a country where people were jailed because all they wanted was to be treated as equals.

I come from a country where people were killed because they didn’t agree with policies of hatred.

I come from a country where people were thrown in jail never to be charged – because the government could.

I come from a country where we gave up our liberties because of a false belief that it made us safer.

I come from a country where our true leaders were said to be terrorists because they dared to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves.

I come from a country where the government controlled the media through lies and deception.

I come from a country where the media didn’t tell us the truth because they feared the government more than what they loved the truth.

I come from a country were our leaders told us and taught us more about hate than about hope.

I come from a country where the church walked hand in hand with those who were the perpetrators of oppression.

I come from a country that tortured those who didn’t agree with us all in the name of national security and fear.

I come from a country where we were told that anyone with a black skin or skin with a different shade than pink were somehow different from us and not one of us.

I come from a country where people who disagreed with the government in the mildest of ways were told that they were traitors.

I come from a country where we shouted “kill him” when we saw someone we thought didn’t look or think like us – even when they did.

I come from a country where fear controlled our every thought even though we never knew it.

I come from a country where history was rewritten to fit the story the government ideology wanted us to believe in.

I come from a country where we were our schools taught not science and facts but what the government and church wanted them to teach us.

I come from a country where information were kept from us because being kept in the dark kept our mouths shut.

I come from a country where we looked for blame elsewhere and not at the place where it was – in our homes and in our hearts.

I come from a country where we only allowed “freedom” to those who bowed to the power of government.

I come from a country where people with different sexual preferences were kept from being who they are – through laws and lies.

I come from a country where diversity were seen as threatening and not embraced as Gods way of making us all unique.

I come from a country where freedom was only given to those who looked and spoke and believed the same and not to those who were truly oppressed and discriminated against – women, gay and black South Africans.

I come from a country where we had elections but no one who mattered could vote or be voted for.

I come from a country where we believed that the opinions of those outside our borders did not matter.

I come from a country where we believed that no one but us were right and damn anyone who didn’t agree.

I come from a country where we believed we were in a democracy but we were just lying to ourselves.

I come from a country where the hatred we had for our fellow South Africans ruled our lives.

I come from a country where we created more enemies just so we could cling on to power we never really had.

I come from a country where we were divided and never united even though we called ourselves South Africans.

I come from a country where we didn’t have what you have.

Remember… Your are American. And you are because they are. How can you want other people to love and respect America if you can’t even love and respect yourself. Your own countrymen? You make America with your fellow Americans. You define it through your actions and through your words and through your thoughts. Be proud. Walk tall. Be true. Live in hope. Believe in each other. Create your dream. Make it real. Be Americans. And make America yours. Because who you are and what you do and what you say and what you think will define the America of tomorrow.

Don’t waste it. Make it count. Don’t be scared. Always seek the truth. Don’t believe the lies. But most of all. Most of all. Never, never ever hate your fellow Americans.

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Everything that has been said over the last few days, weeks and months… This election. It made me think. Why? Why the hell do I even care? I can’t vote. I am not American. So why do I care apart from some warped idea that I live here and have some interest. Or that people I care for in this world will be affected by this election. I still shouldn’t get so worked up. It’s was only when I started looking back at my own country and the past that I remembered why… Hope. America represents hope. To me and to most people across this world. America is the hope we want to believe in. Hope of a better future. We just can’t see it right now.

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