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It’s odd how we look at the problems of the world and just continue to live our daily lives. Like driving past a car crash and thanking God it wasn’t us.

Zimbabwe is a car crash of we witness in our world. And we all slow down to stare, shake our heads and say, “Oh shame, I wonder what happened”. But no one stops to help. At most we will phone 911-AU or 1-800-UN and hope they will sort it out. But we drive on. Not stopping to help. Because we don’t want to “get involved” or get our hands dirty. And, in any case, we have an important meeting to go to and just didn’t do that bloody first aid course. We drive on because we have good reasons. Sorry, excuses.

But there are different types of car crashes in this world. We never stop to look at the reason. We assume we know. And behind every assumption is an idiot waiting to crash.

There is the drunk idiot driver that thinks he can just do whatever the hell he wants. Mugabe for example… They drive the way they want and crash where they want because alcohol makes you feel invincible. Just like power politics. Nothing can touch you. And you go ahead and do stupid things and drive as if you own the road, but we know you are going to crash. And take a few people out with you. Innocent bystanders and passengers. But like real people we watch you get drunk and never actually ask you to leave the keys and take a cab. No, we are to scared you might be offended…

But you are an idiot. An idiot for getting drunk on the power the steering wheel of life gives you. And an idiot for the false sense of safety the cacoon car gives you. I would stop and applaud your crash if it wasn’t for the innocent passengers and bystanders.

And then there are those who crash and they had nothing to do with it. A tyre blew and the car is hanging on a cliff – ready to crash down and take everyone on board with them. These drivers drive old cars with worn tyres and clunky bodies. It’s not that they want to have a crap car but they can’t afford a new one. And they have to take the commute of life to stay alive. They drive their crappy cars to work each day hoping that they will make it there and back safely. They don’t want to but they can’t help it. It’s life. And they are at the bottom of the piles of bodies. The janitors of life. Zambia…

My beautiful Zambia. The most amazing people in the world. Never been in a war. More Swiss than the Swiss. But they have a land-locked country with little to sell to the world. But they survive most of the time. And the crash we see is in slow motion. Like a bad dream. We can see it happening and we can rush out to help but like in those dreams… we are always just a little bit too late. It’s the hand they got dealt living on the wrong side of the track. But they continue to move along and try and make it to work for another day. Maybe that crash won’t come today. Maybe not tomorrow or even next week. But we know those tyres can’t last forever…

And sometimes everyone crashes while we drive by in our luxury vehicle of money and ownership. The roads are wet or full of sleet. People go off the road and crash into each other left, right and centre. But we are comfy in our luxury vehicle. We slow down a bit to stop us from sliding off the road and swerve to miss the others crashing around us. We just slow down enough not to get involved or harmed. The slippery dreadful roads are the economy. Making it dangerous for everyone. But those with money will slow down a bit. But they will survive while the others crash without reason. Those others didn’t speed or blow a tyre. It was just that there were no warning signs when they came around that economic bend. It’s a dead-end road. It’s their end of the road.

And even if the luxury vehicle slips and slides off the road they know they will be fine. Their cars have automatic recovery and crash warning systems, the latest safety devices to cushion the blow – and insurance to cover their costs if anything unforeseen happens. It’s life. It’s a hiccup for them. Lose a car or a million but they know they will be okay. Except if they got insured by Madoff & Co. Then daddy will have to bail them out. He always does. For them.

Of course it all is very different when someone crashes through our front door or wall. Then we get all worked up and want to beat the bloody guy up and want the police and insurance to deal with it right now! Because then it happened to us.

It happened to us…

Those people crashing everywhere around us? They are not us. It only happens to other people. Not to us. It’s never us.

Car crashes… That’s life in our little world. One car crash after the other. Thank god we have a few people who stop and help. And a handful of firemen and paramedics. Not enough to save the world. But enough to save a few while we drive past and shake our heads…

Maybe we all just suffer from road rage.

You know what? I don’t have a licence…

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A life worth living...

A life worth living...

The thing that always surprises me about Africa is not that people die from hunger, poverty, war, diseases, etc, but that so few die when compared to the struggle to survive. I mean really. Have you seen the hellholes in the DRC? Or in the Niger Delta area? Or Sudan?

And those are just the extremes. For many the daily life in Africa is one tough and stretched out battle. Getting the next meal. Staying warm in the shack during winter. Running out of medicine. It comes down to the basics of survival. Not everything in Africa looks like the Kenyan Serengeti. Trust me…

Still. Put a few umlungus in those same circumstances and you’ll have people dying like flies.

But even in this struggle Africans manage to create businesses by selling fruits and other goods next to the road. And they do this and continue to remain proud people. They maintain hope even in the worst of circumstances. Okay, not in places like Rwanda back then, but I mean in the “everyday” world of poverty, hunger, corruption and warlords. How come they can maintain their will to fight, stay strong and proud, live a life worth living, breathe in their ubuntu – while others in Western countries don’t?

Okay, I don’t know how this fits in here but I have this story I always tell to people looking at the charity pictures of Africa. You know, the one with the woman carrying the water bucket on her head or the poor hungry kid with tears in his eyes. Anyway, you look at those women of Africa and you feel sorry for them. Sorry for them? Pity? Puh-leeze! Think Bill Gates. You see those women of Africa selling their goods next to the road. Fruits and vegetables being standard issue. Here you have an African woman with most likely no schooling, definitely no business training, not a smell of financing in a 1,000 mile radius, and struggling to sell her goods next to the side of the road. With a hundred or more competitors each side of her. And she supports an extended family with her daily takings. And you want to feel sorry for her? You should sit down at her feet and learn from the master. Bill-Bloody-Gates I tell you. She is running a business where most of us won’t even be able to survive for a week. And she makes it each and every single day. By the skin of her teeth on most days – but she still makes it. Applaud her. Learn from her. But never feel sorry for her. She is strong. She is Mama Africa! Listen to her instead of telling her what she needs. She knows what she needs. Just be quiet and listen for a little bit. Shhh… L.i.s.t.e.n…

Anyway…

The point I am trying to make is that the greatness of Africa is not defined by the crap going on each day. Warlords? We’ll survive them. Hunger? We’ll share our last meal. Poverty? Of money but not the soul. Diseases? Okay, that one we can’t beat…

I don’t want to romanticize life in Africa. There are too many bad people living amongst my beautiful people. Too many people dying of war or hunger or senseless diseases. Or from a simple thing like dirty water. It is tough out there. It is tougher than you can imagine. But it doesn’t define Africa. And it doesn’t define Africans. Look past all that and you just see people. Proud people. Friendly people. Ready for a laugh. And ready to share their last bit of food with you. With a sparkle in their eyes. Proud and strong.

I am always surprised how few people in Africa look for excuses. You great them with a “howzit” or “how are you doing” and all you get is a smile and a wave of the hand to sit down and share a beer. Talk about Kaizer Chiefs or Pirates (I was a Seven Stars fan so in a bit of a limbo. Maybe Santos if pushed. Ajax on a good day.) Tell a joke or two. At my expense of course… But it’s not just in South Africa. You can go from Zambia to Mali and get the same response. “Sit down brother. Have a drink. So, what do you think of the time Senegal beat the French hey?” Never an excuse of why life isn’t as great as on the telly.

Maybe it is because we don’t define our lives by the material things we don’t have or even the hunger pains. It’s defined by… I don’t know. Something inside telling us that life is okay. As long as we have a little love in our lives and good friends to share anything with. Beer, food or even just a story. The meaning of life takes on many masks in Africa. We make life worthwhile instead of seeking reasons to give up. We just have to look around us to see a reason to moan and bitch. That part is easy. It’s easy to find a reason to curl up and die. But we don’t. We look at the little things that makes it all worthwhile. The little treasures of life – love, family, friends, beer, soccer, meat, putu, and… hum… more beer.

But back to my question: How come they can maintain their will to fight, stay strong and proud, live a life worth living and breathe in their ubuntu while others in Western countries don’t?

You know when I was shocked by poverty for the first time in my life? San Francisco. Yes. The City of Angels. I saw a homeless person in the streets. Nothing new. I’ve seen street kids all over Africa. High on glue or selling their souls on the corner. But it’s the eyes…

I’ve almost always seen hope in the eyes of my fellow Africans. Sometimes it is just a little sliver. A dying flicker of light. But it is there. You have to dig really deep sometimes. You can just make it out in the darkness surrounding it. But you can crack it open a little. Make it a bit stronger. Just by smiling or winking or making a joke or a hug or a shared moment or… the little things.

But in those eyes of the homeless guy in San Francisco? Empty. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Not a flicker of hope. It was the eyes of defeat. Of death just waiting to happen. Nothing left to live for. No reason or meaning anymore. Just dead lifeless eyes.

Why? Why do people give up? I know we have problems in this world. I know I am damn lucky. But do we have to stop trying to live when trying to survive to the next meal is tough enough?

Maybe the lesson from Africa is that things can always be worse. Can always get worse. And you can let that define you in two ways – give up and slowly die or stay strong and have the will to keep on fighting and keep on living. Just to live a life worth living for.

I don’t have a clear picture on this. I really don’t know why some people give up and some people somehow find a life amongst the dead and the buried lives and ruined land around them. But what I do know is that I have always been amazed that everywhere I have been in Africa – the slums, townships, war, poverty, dying kids etc – those things hardly ever actually defined the people I met and worked with. It was there but it wasn’t who they were. They were so much more than that in their own eyes.

They are alive in their own eyes. Even when they are dying.

And that make me live life.

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From the Loose Ends files…

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Actually, they won’t say that. Maybe behind closed doors somewhere. But even then they won’t use the word African. No they’ll use something much more harsh than that. They’ll tell public jokes about people from Pakistan or Poland, but they’ll stay away from Africans. Ever wondered why?

Maybe because they have raped and pillaged Africa so much that there is no joke left for them to tell. Not without feeling guilty. It’s easy to tell jokes about people that are down and less fortunate than you. But it is more difficult to tell a joke about people that you messed up so badly. Where you drew the borders with a ruler and a dice. Hey, it was a half a century ago, but it takes the fun away when you see your handiwork in the news every single day.

But even those outside Europe don’t tell jokes about Africans. But they don’t do it because of their history of exploitation. No. They do it because of what they are still doing today. Want a trade deal? We got one for you. Okay, it’s not what you want, but it’s all you gonna get. Want some help with economic development? No problem. Just sign on the dotted line and take all the strings that’s attached. Want to deal with a health crisis? No problem. Here take these pills, but pay up and break your neck if you want the stuff that will really help. No fun telling jokes about Africans now is it? Not when what you do is no joke. It kills people.

There is another reason why they don’t tell jokes about Africans. Racism. Plain old vanilla flavored racism. It is difficult to tell jokes when you know you discriminate against people from Africa. Because you can’t laugh out loud when your conscious drowns out the laughter with its screaming. And the tears of laughter gets replaced by tears of sorrow when you are reminded of that kid you saw on the Save The Children poster. No fun now is it?

Oh, they’ll hide that racism away. And hide behind their politically correct walls. But we know better. We see it in their eyes when they can’t look at us for too long. Or the condescending voice they use when describing how much they love Africa. A good friend of mine described it in the perfect way – the “snobbery and veiled superiority of the Brits”. (Don’t worry John, I won’t give away your identity, but those were beautiful words. I just had to use it.) They don’t believe that they are better. No never, not them. They know they are better. And it is so subtle. It’s just the slight tilt of their head, the slow knowing nod of the head, the soft voice almost whispering, their chin resting on their folded hands as if in prayer, and the way they sigh in a caring way when they talk about the people of Africa and the suffering. But we know. Oh yes, we know.

They’ll let in everyone with a white skin (or money). You’re from Poland? No problem. Come on in. America? Welcome to London. South Africa? Sorry, you were okay before, but you know now that you have a black government running the country we are experiencing all these problems with visas. It was okay way back then when you only came over to visit and spend your money, but now you want to work here as well? Really, that is just too much. Give an African a finger and he’ll take the middle one. Yes, South Africa has at last become like almost all other African countries. We can now call ourselves true Africans. We have passed the last hurdle. The UK will charge our people just enough money for visas to keep the majority of black South Africans at home. Welcome home South Africa, welcome home.

But the joke is on them. Those borders they drew never kept us in. Or out for that matter. We are not some animal you can cage. We will explore the world like we always have. Move around and find a nice little place to hang out. Hey, you can thank your lucky stars that we have this eagerness to explore. A couple of us got sick and tired of hanging around hunting in this bloody heat and decided to go north for a bit. Just a winter break. And decided to stay for a while. We gave you life. And a few thousand years later those same bastards came back with white skins and a gun. Jeez umlungu, what happened to you? You leave for a few days and come back looking like this? Go wash yourself. You look ridiculous.

Hey, gotta run. Want to see the Cullinan Diamond in London before I need a visa. Oh yes, that was one of ours before as well. After London? Who knows. I hear Switzerland still takes us. Just a shame about all the Swiss. Have I ever told you the joke about the Swiss?

This is a little bit of bragging. I am sorry for that. (No, really!) But I am really proud of having been part of this team. And I am proud of the role that I played. Most of all.. I am Proudly South African.

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How do you get people to buy South African goods when they have this perception that something made elsewhere is so much better? Well, Nelson Mandela wanted a campaign to get people to support South African goods and services. And what Madiba wants Madiba gets. At least in my books. The question was – How do we get people to support South African made goods and services in such a young democracy still redefining what being South African means to us? With difficulty… And I was asked to get this off the ground. It wasn’t as easy as you would expect! But it was fun…

Nelson Mandela got everyone and his dog (government, business, civil society and trade unions) together back in 1998 to get them to agree to a joint effort to create jobs in South Africa. His Presidential Job Summit was a breakthrough. Getting everyone on the same page was key to moving us forward in more or less the same direction. It didn’t come up with too many tangible things, but just getting everyone to share thoughts was huge for us. Hell, we were tearing each other apart a few years earlier so we had to get our heads together if we were going to make it together as the new Rainbow Nation. So we got together around the virtual campfire and agreed to many things that should be at the forefront of this new “partnership”. One of the things they agreed to was a short little paragraph about initiating a Buy South African campaign. Doesn’t sound like much does it? Should be easy to get off the ground right? But nothing happened until 2000. Yes, we work in African time…

The problem was that business hated it, government was indifferent and the trade unions were split. But I worked for one of the key supporters of this idea – Ebrahim Patel. Ebrahim was a genius. A hard man and difficult to please, but still a genius. And I loved working with this guy no matter how difficult it was. But I’ll leave him for another day.

Ebrahim was the reason why I joined COSATU and because of him I was made Convener of the Trade and Industry Chamber at NEDLAC. NEDLAC was where all these “stakeholders” (government, labour, civil society and business) negotiated almost everything that had something to do with the economy and social development before it goes to parliament. And the Trade and Industry Chamber negotiated and developed anything from trade deals to competition policy. You name it we negotiated it, wrote it and did it. NEDLAC is light years ahead of anything I have seen in any democracy in the world. The only institution actually making people part of government policy decisions and processes. Imagine that. By the people and for the people. That is a novel idea…

So it was only logical that this Buy South African idea would eventually land up in our laps. And it was my job to make this argument. Well, at least according to Ebrahim. So I made the arguments and threatened and threw my toys until they agreed. Not because they wanted this, but because they thought it would be best to humor me instead of facing a possible mass action (read protest) against them. And they really did not want to face Ebrahim when he was pissed. But they had something up their sleeve as well.

They were pretty sure that this thing will never get off the ground. There were just too many people against it. And the then new President, Thabo Mbeki, wasn’t that eager for it either. It would be a legacy of Nelson Mandela and he was trying to get away from under the shadow of this great man. So they decided to set up a task team that would get this campaign off the ground. Knowing that it would never happen – not if they had anything to do with it. You know – the best way to get rid of something is to create a committee to deal with it! And who better to lead this task team then me. Yep, I pushed so hard that they thought the best way to get back at me is to set me up for failure. So I was the “lucky” one who got selected to lead this campaign. Thanks Ebrahim…

They gave me total freedom to include anyone in the team that I wanted. They were sure that I would fill it up with unionist who would be supportive of the idea. But no. i knew that wouldn’t work. I needed those who were against the idea even closer than those who loved it. Keep your friends close and enemies even closer. Or the tent and the pissing story – you know the deal. So I selected key people from government and business who were totally apposed to the idea. I had to convince them if we wanted any chance of this actually getting off the ground.

They also gave me an almost unlimited budget to work with. And like anyone with too much money I hired a few consultants. Rupert Barnard and Kaiser in Cape Town were perfect. They didn’t give a damn who liked it or not. Their aim was to make it work. And get paid a bucket load if they could pull it off. But the opposition pulled out their first trump card at our first meeting – World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements.

As a member of the WTO, South Africa agreed that the government will not do anything that supports South African companies above foreign companies. All should be treated equally. But we needed the support of government because they had the money. And they could influence business. And we needed business to implement it if we wanted it to be viable.

So we came to standstill almost immediately. We couldn’t move until we knew whether it would be allowed under WTO rules or not. We argued this way and that way. We did research and more research. And still we couldn’t come to an agreement. Four months went past and we still didn’t get any closer to an answer. And then it hit me. A piece of genius. A tactic out of this world! I picked up the phone, called the WTO in Geneva and asked them if we could do this campaign under WTO rules. They said it would be fine and even put it in writing for me. Needless to say, but the other guys were less impressed with my tactics. It was a bit underhanded to contact them directly! To actually ask them. The audacity. Imagine that. I am such a rebel… Not. Wow! The reaction from some of the others were less enthusiastic. Or maybe they were just pissed at the answer that I got. But they had to go ahead with it – they were part of the team. Now we had government on our side – and their money as well. One down, one to go.

We blew money left right and centre to convince everyone that this is a good idea. We benchmarked similar campaigns in Australia, US, Canada and even Indonesia. Our problem was that none of the other countries included environmental and social standards to their campaigns. We wanted the products to not only be of good quality and be made in South Africa, but we also wanted it to be done in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Yes, we were way ahead of everyone else at the time. So we just made it up as we went along.

But consumers would be key to this all. They had to believe in the campaign and buy the products in the end. So we blew some more money on consumer studies to see what would drive consumers to support this campaign. And although we didn’t know it at the time, this would be a breakthrough for the campaign. But not in a way we would have expected.

Those in business opposed to the idea found another obstacle they could throw our way. They couldn’t agree on a name. Business wanted it to be called Made in South Africa. But the unions wanted it to be called Buy South African – the original name they agreed to in 1998. But business was adamant. They would not go for the Buy South African name as it was to prescriptive and they wanted it to say more about the product – that it was Made in South Africa. And the unions refused to budge. They wanted people to buy the stuff. Stuck again.

We used this in our favor for a little while. Getting other key things passed like the budget, management structure and marketing plan. But we knew there would be no campaign if we couldn’t get them to agree on the name. And time was running out.

And we struggled. Again going this way and that way. Trying to convince each side that they should just go with the other name. But no one was willing to budge. Then one night I was reading through some consumer research when it hit me. What was the number one reason people would support this campaign? Easy. Over 80% of people said they would do it because they were proud to be South Africans. We had a name – Proudly South African. They couldn’t fight it. They would not be very proudly South African if they didn’t go with this. They caved in and we had a name. Business was on board.

The rest was easy. We removed one obstacle after the other. And more and more people came on board. And the name was a killer. It just captured the “Madiba magic” in a way no one thought we could. A few more twists and turns and we had everyone on board. We were ready to rock and roll.

That was the most difficult time for me. We had to employ people to run this. My job was only to get it to the launch stage. It took 18 months of my life. It consumed me and took everything out of me. I had to out maneuver opponents and overcome obstacles every day. It drove me crazy, but I loved it. And we had a great team backing it and working on it. But it was time to let go. My little baby has grown up and was ready to leave home. So we let it go. And the rest is history.

I was proud. I was Proudly South African

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Trotsky would have been proud. I started my own little revolution during my time at the University of Stellenbosch. Okay, most of it was unintentional and more like the Oasis song ‘I started a revolution from my bed’. It all started when I became a tutorial lecturer in Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch.

I didn’t want to be the standard lecturer. I wanted to teach and engage. So I made two simple rules that my students must follow. Firstly, they didn’t have to come to class if they wanted a degree. I would just give them whatever mark they wanted if that was their intention. For those who wanted to study – be careful, I will challenge you and try and get you outside your comfort zone. The intention was to get them interested in learning and not focus on the end goal. The second rule was even easier to follow – it better be Liverpool I see if you wear any clothing that highlights some commitment to a sport or team. Anything else and you are out of there. And I am not joking, many students were thrown out of class for breaking this cardinal rule. Hey, even us revolutionaries needs to draw the line somewhere. Come on, Pope John Paul II was a Liverpool supporter as well – so I wasn’t that much of a revolutionary.

Anyway, here I was at the Bastion of Apartheid, the University of Stellenbosch. Banished from most of the more popular anti-Apartheid movement meetings on campus because I questioned how committed they were – see The (student) spy amongst us for more detail. Just like old Trotsky, I was fighting my own fight. The problem was that I wasn’t much of a Trot, I just had as many hang-ups when I was young.

I had my first taste at starting a revolution when I went on my yearly rant against the Student Representative Council (SRC). They were a pretty useless bunch. No power and no backbone. They were very much in line with any university system of voting – whoever is the prettiest and made the most populist promises will win – for a student this meant the one promising the biggest party will be gauranteed the popular vote. I used one of my classes to point out that voting should at least reflect some or other relevancy (this was before reality TV shows). And that the SRC was irrelevant. They pandered to the Nationalist government who controlled the University of Stellenbosch. They never spoke out against any of the injustices of the university rules or questioned the political alliances of the ruling mob at the university. One student piped up to say that her sister was on the SRC and worked really hard. My response was to say that I am sure she worked really hard. But that is different from working on something relevant. Planning the next big party did not translate into something relevant. And that I was sure that the Apartheid government worked really hard at oppressing people. But it didn’t make them right. Hum, she didn’t like this and decided to go for the ‘I-want-a-degree’ option and left my class. And I ranted on about what we needed was for students to take responsibility and show their unhappiness with the system. And in any way they felt was the most relevant – just as long as they show they didn’t believe or support a political structure that had none of their interests at heart. It was a mistake to let them decide what the ‘appropriate action’ should be. A big mistake.

I meant for them to have a protest vote. Maybe a placard ot two. I actually expected them to do nothing. Go out for a few drinks after class and talk about the revolution like good Trots. And then go home and do nothing. Like good Trots. But no. They had other ideas. Unlike Trots they decided to do something together in unity. (Trots usually split into two groups when two gather). I didn’t realize that the revolution started while I was in bed.

I took my normal route to the office and quickly realized that they went completely overboard. Every road sign and wall were sprayed in anti-SRC or anti-establishment slogans. Graffiti everywhere. Not a protester in sight, but their handywork were everywhere. Oh, yes. I was in trouble. People knew it was me behind this protest almost immediately. How? Well, the bloody students sprayed a path that started at the SRC offices and that ended at the entrance to my class. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving little breadcrumbs for everyone to follow. Right to my doorstep. I could feel a headache similar to the Trotsky ice-pick coming my way.

I got to class and my revolutionaries were waiting for me. All smiles and high fives. They were so chuffed with themselves. I sat down and stared at my desk. Where do I start? Do I give them the ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches speech’? Or do I just walk away and go have a drink? After a long pause I looked up and said, “Okay people, rule number three. What happens in the class, stay in the class”.

I am inspired by the women in my life. My mother, my wife, my daughters and my sisters. I love you all. You inspire me. And then those women from Africa. Those women who carry our people on their backs and cradle our continent in their arms. The same women who suffer at the hands of us African men. This piece was written for them…

 

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Long Live Mama Africa!

 

I am always amazed at how people from outside Africa look at Africa and always have an “oh shame” expression on their faces. They somehow feel sorry for the people of Africa. You know. How could you not? How could you not feel sorry for the people of Africa when all you see in the papers and on the charity cards are the faces of hungry children and suffering women. You can’t have a heart and not feel sorry for them. Especially not for the women of Africa. Or can you? Sorry is not the emotion we want you to feel when you look at us. And sorry is not the feeling you should have when you look at the women of Africa. They have given birth to Africa. To all the children of Africa. And they carry Africa on their backs. The same way they carry the children of Africa on their backs. They carry Africa and the children while they work in the fields. While they toil in the sun. Getting the food ready for our people to eat. Don’t feel sorry for them. Celebrate them. They are the power in our arms. The speed in our footsteps. And the food of our souls. Hear them roar.

Let me tell you a story that plays out in Africa every single day. And then you will know to never feel sorry for the women of Africa.

Every single day you will find women selling fruit next to the road. Walk the dusty roads of Africa and there they are. Working from before the sun rises to after the sun sets. To sell their goods as people commute to work and back. And they walk for miles to go and buy those fruits and vegetables. To get ready to open the “doors” of their business in time to hit the commuters before they are all off to work. And they sit there day in and day out. Waiting for the commuters to come back. Selling their fruits and their vegetables. Bananas. Apples. Oranges. Mangoes. Tomatoes. Carrots. Potatoes. Whatever goes and grows in that region – and what they can find at the main market. Come rain or sun, floods to droughts. They sit there and sell their goods. And feed the people. And you want to feel sorry for them?

Don’t. Do not feel sorry for them. Think of Bill Gates when you see these women sitting there. Running their business. With a hundred competitors each side. Competing for the same small group of buyers. They run their business. But they also run Africa.

Celebrate them because they run their businesses with all those competitors on both sides. And hardly any schooling. And no business training. And they support an extended family. Feeding them and keeping them safe while the men are off somewhere else. Making war or making love. With another. And you want to feel sorry for them? What is there to be sorry about? These are strong women. Women with pride. Women with a business sense that Bill Gates could only dream of. They run a successful business with nothing but the sweat on their foreheads and strength of their souls and the heads on their shoulders. They don’t suffer. They don’t suffer fools.

No. Don’t feel sorry for them. They are the arms who cradle Africa. Feel sorry for the men of Africa. Feel sorry for the men of Africa because they don’t know what they are doing. Feel sorry for the men because they make the wars. And the women bury the dead. Feel sorry for the men who beat our women. And the women give birth to them. Feel sorry for the men who have no pride. And the women pick up the pieces behind them. Yes. The women of Africa clean up after the men. These men with no pride. These women of strength.

You know why the men of Africa are so weak? Because the women of Africa is so strong. The men see it in the eyes of the women. This strength. And they know they can never be that strong. And they do whatever they can to kill that light in their eyes. But you can’t. Not with African women. They are too strong. And that is what makes the men so weak and so scared. They can never roar like the women of Africa. Never. And they know it.

Yes. We men treat the women of Africa like second-class citizens. We treat them like that because we know we can never be that strong. We can never be the backbone of Africa. We can never give berth to a nation. We can never care for Africa the way the women do. We are not Africa. We can never be the women of Africa. That is why we call her Mama Africa. She is our soul and she is our life. She gives us life and she keeps us safe. Viva Mama Africa. Long Live the Women of Africa.

 

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I love Christmas. Or at least this time of the year. Just love it.

I love putting up all the lights. Even though I know the Saudis are most likely laughing all the way to the bank thanks to increase in energy use. And I am talking about my household alone. We have lights everywhere.

It takes me 40 minutes to 2 hours to switch off all the lights inside. We have the tree and all the lights that go with that. The strings of lit-up garland hanging on every single doorway or opening or staircase or shoe-rack. If there is a space – we hang, cover and light it up. And then there is the small house that looks a bit like the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel on the big chest in the living room. Of course it lights up. And the small trees in the girls rooms. Oh, and the small tree in the kitchen. The snowman on the piano. And… and… plus… and don’t forget the… And other gadgets and thingies that light up on every table and every desk and chair in our house. We like lights. We like lights… a lot.

And don’t forget about outside… I am Tim “The Toolman” Taylor from Home Improvements when it comes to lights outside. We have a few thousand strings of lights running all along the side of our stoep outside. I balanced carefully on the railing while hooking them up and stringing them up in the cold. I had to have my nose amputated because of the exposure to the New England weather. But that is okay – I have a huge nose… It runs in the family. My nose almost looks “normal” now. Like Gérard Depardieu… Or Steve Martin in Roxanne. Anyway, it’s the one thing where a smaller size do matter…

Okay… We also have a big old Santa outside. One of those Santas that needs a little machine attached to it to blow the air into old blow-up fat Santa. It looks cool – even though I have to tie him to the railing just in case the wind blows harder than 2 mph… But hey! He’s even got a little light insight! Don’t forget the red-and-white striped candy-cane sticks that light up! Four stuck into one pot plant and four in another one in the other corner. Oh… And then my personal favorite…

The reindeer with the lights all over and everywhere – and the lit up sleigh in tow. Of course the reindeer has a bobbing head. Nodding away his approval at my display of lights.

We love lights. And we love Christmas.

You think the Saudis love me? Wait until the Chinese toy manufacturers see what’s on the shopping list. “Dad! I want that for Christmas dad! Can I have that dad?” The list gets longer and longer. And then she’ll end up playing with the empty box for days. And the older one? Not saying what we are getting her, but it will blow her away. It is something that she does not expect. Not at all.

Still in doubt on what to get my beautiful and lovely wife. Wish I could get her what she deserves but the budget doesn’t cover that. And no, I am NOT getting her John Travolta or Brad Pitt! Hang on… Maybe Angelina will adopt me. I am from Africa. More than willing to sit on her lap. Or the other way around. Mmm… A Santa outfit… Snap! Back to reality! I have an even hotter wife – so there you go Brad my boy.

I am hoping for that guitar I always wanted. No, I don’t play the guitar. But I really want to learn. I hope I’m not too old. Babe… lovie… darling… can you get that Idiot’s Guide To Playing The Guitar to go with that? This idiot WILL need that. Actually, I need the whole series. Idiot’s Guide to… Life, the Universe and Everything. That might do it.

I love Christmas. Just love it.

Yeah, yeah. I’m not going to call it the “holiday season”. We celebrate Christmas where I come from so I’ll just call it that. We don’t celebrate it to divide us. We celebrate our differences as something that defines our unity. We feel sorry for Achmat when he can’t eat during Ramadan but will share a laugh and a meal afterwards. Same with Rosh Hashanah and Diwali. We hang out together and celebrate with each other. So Christmas is my time!

But I don’t like everything about Christmas…

The damn music…

I really don’t like Christmas songs. No one will like Christmas music if the topic was anything else. Imagine the same tune but another topic. Would you buy or listen to Boney M if they didn’t play Christmas music? Every second rate singer of the 80’s brings out a new Christmas album and hope that someone will buy it. And you know your mother will. How many Christmas albums can you possibly have? We have a few… Okay babe, I won’t go into all the details. But I still don’t get why Reba McEntire sounds any better singing about Christmas when I won’t buy her “normal” music. Okay, normal might be a stretch. And what is it about Harry Connick Jr and Christmas music? Come on dude, get a life! And we have a few Christmas CD’s… We have the Christmas Concert (Not Schubert or Mozart…), The Ultimate Christmas Album (really… Bucks Effing Fizz?), A Rock’ n Roll Christmas (who the hell is Elvin Bishop?), All Time Favourite Christmas Party Megamix (I personally like Supermegamix better), Christmas With The Stars (more Harry Connick Jr… And since when is Michael Bolton a star?), Christmas Sax (hum… Angelina, I said Sax), The 3 CD’s of The Ultimate Family Christmas (Yeah! Doris Day!) and White Christmas (not by Ian Smith) to name a few. Thank God we didn’t get that Chipmunks Christmas album. Hope the girls don’t read this…

Actually, I don’t mind it that much. I don’t like it. But I love seeing my wife play it. She loves it. Just loves Christmas music. And I love watching her sing to the music and smile at the songs. Play it again Harry and Reba!

But there is one specific song that really gets to me. In the wrong way. Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?

I know they mean well. And their heart is in the right place. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions – just ask… hum… let’s leave him out of this okay? Let’s just say my mother used to say it.

There is one specific line that sticks out and gets to me. ‘And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas‘. Uh-duh. It is summer in most of Africa at Christmas time. Of course there won’t be any snow in Africa this Christmas. Or the next. No matter how many times you sing the song – there will be no snow in (most of) Africa at ANY Christmas. Especially not with Global Warming. It goes from damn hot to shit hot in Africa over Christmas thanks to Climate Change. No snow. No shit Sherlock.

It used to baffle me at Christmas time when people used to send us cards with snow scenery – snowmen, Father Christmas on his sleigh, reindeer, snowflakes falling etc. WTF? What’s that all about? We never got snow – Christmas or any other time. It never really got cold enough in winter for snow – never mind at Christmas time during the summer. It was a completely foreign concept. So when they started singing about it during Christmas it bugged me even more. Never got it. I was 30 before I saw it snow for the first time – in Europe.

But maybe it isn’t the song or my childhood memories driving my dislike Do They Know It’s Christmas? Maybe what gets to me is that more than 20 years later we still have all this shit going on in Africa. People suffering at a time when the world is indulging. Things are a little better than 20 years ago, but for the majority of Africans it is still marginal. So many of them work hours we can’t imagine and under conditions we will never survive. And they don’t bitch and moan. They just live their lives and carry on. They DO know it’s Christmas time, but just don’t see the point. It’s not much better than in 1984. Except it is now Sir Bob Geldof.

And anyway, what is it with that big fat white dude with the beard in the red tracksuit sitting in that donkey cart being dragged by a few antelope? And he is flying? In Africa? Dude… We might be from Africa but we are not stupid. I know a WMD when I see one. And a white dude flying across the sky with a load of boxes in his card… He’s going to do what? Drop it down my chimney? Get the f outa here. We don’t have chimneys in Africa. It’s too damn hot remember? Either he is dealing drugs or I am taking it. A fat white dude in a red tracksuit handing out present after he “landed” his donkey cart… Turn up the volume please. He obviously doesn’t know it never snows in Africa. But when it rains it pours…

Christmas. I love it. Because…

It’s Christmastime
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

Yep… Thank God it’s them instead of me.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime

Have fun. Don’t feel bad. It is time to celebrate and be happy about everything we have. Don’t worry too much about those who don’t have what you have. I am serious. Go out, buy some presents, have a feast, enjoy what you have and those around you. Forget about the worries of world for just a few days. Have a break. A Christmas break.

And then come back with a bang! Be ready to fight tooth and nail next year. Let’s make it a Christmas for all next time around. Let goodwill and peace hammer Africa into a snowy Christmas next time. Come out swinging. I know I will.

And maybe I’ll get that guitar and start singing with Bob and Bono and Bruce. Singing, “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you“. And we’ll throw our arms around the world.

Damn. I hate that song.

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Note: I “stole” parts of the last bit from a previous post of mine – Do They Know It’s Christmas?