thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the tag “south Africa”

And on a lighter note… over to my mother

There was some big news going on in South Africa last week (6 to 10 February 2017). We are, as some people have said in the media, a ‘noisy democracy’.

In sport and popular culture circles, there was the death of Springbok rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen on Monday after his six-year fight against Motor Neuron Disease, and then the build-up to his memorial service and provincial official funeral at Loftus Versveld Rugby Stadium on Friday.

South Africans around the world were invited to wear the green and gold Springbok colours in his memory, and depending on where you were, where you worked and even where your children went to school, I think the call was quite well heeded.

joost-memorial

In the political arena, there was the annual State of the Nation (SONA) address in Parliament in Cape Town by the country’s president on Thursday night. The State of the Nation tables a programme of action for the year and accounts for progress in the commitments made the previous February.

The fact that the Presidency announced the deployment of 441 soldiers in Cape Town during this time to ‘help police maintain law and order’ during the opening of parliament caused a great deal of anger. It brought everyone’s attention right back to the scenes in Parliament during the 2015 State of the Nation address that made the famously robust debates of the British Parliament (which I like watching from time to time) look like a kindergarten jelly-and-ice-cream party in comparison. So the general consensus was that our president was running a bit scared again this year as SONA approached.

And somewhere in the middle of all this, in the financial services sector, South Africa’s biggest – and previously only – stock exchange, the JSE, lost an appeal it had lodged with the Financial Services Board around issues it had raised against the granting of a licence to a new competitor.

Oh yes, and on the international news front, don’t get me started on the separate announcements by first Beyonce and JZ, and then Amal and George, about their pregnancies with twins, all right? I’ll just let the internet deal with that one.

celeb-twins-haha

And so when Friday finally arrived, I greeted it with an enormous sense of relief. I felt just a little tired.

We all went to work on Friday morning, of course, in the sad yet not surprised knowledge that the previous night’s SONA had again turned into an absolute farce, with scenes of violence erupting and communications being cut from time to time (real déju vu there). Let me hand over this part of the musings to Marianne Merten of the Daily Maverick, who writes, in admirably crisp prose:

“Parliament Violence Channel: EFF violently ejected from #SONA2017, DA walks out

It was a mess. Despite the ring of steel in and around Parliament for President Jacob Zuma’s 2017 State of the Nation, ugly brutal scenes inside building unfolded, again. EFF MPs were evicted by force by men and women dressed in white shirts, same as in 2015. The pursuit continued by police in body armour, riot shields and helmets in the precinct outside, but was short-lived. The DA walked out of the House. This was a re-run of the SONAs past and yet another ugly display of force in the people’s house.

…Inside the House, Zuma was told to start – “Finally” he said before his inimitable brief giggle.”

And so it was, once again, a farce of a Parliamentary affair in South Africa. I’m not sure, myself, what the official SONA speech actually said. I really haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet. I mean, in the context of the above, does it actually matter what our esteemed pres actually said? I mean, he began his speech with his ‘inimitable brief giggle’, after all.

So by the time it came Friday evening, I was mentally and emotionally tired. Where, I wondered, was the joy? It was all getting a bit heavy.

I left work a little earlier than usual and went to fetch my children from my mom. I hadn’t seen her for a few days, as the children’s dad had been doing the evening parenting run this week while I was on the morning school-run shift. So my mom and I sat down at the dining room table for a short while, and I prepared myself for a nice little catch up of her week.

“I found myself watching something quite good on television last night,” said my mother, with a little glint in her eye.

“Oh yes?” I said with interest. My mother has never lost touch with her Scottish roots, so I waited to hear about a new BBC or iTV offering, and hoped that I wasn’t going to hear about re-runs of Victoria or Doc Martin – both of which I really enjoyed, the first time around, but I’m looking for something new from the Brits now.

Unless, I thought hopefully, my mother was about to tell me that there was a new series of Doc Martin just arrived? I do love his grumpy outlook on life and his social ineptness. I have days when I aspire to master his breathtaking rudeness.

doc-martin-437138

“Yes,” said my mother with a little smirk, clearly enjoying herself. “It made a nice change from my book to watch a bit of TV in the evening again.”

“So what was the name of the programme?”

(Was it or was it not a new series of Doc Martin!)

My mother smirked some more.

The Julius Malema Show!” she replied, gleefully.

This was just a little off-centre and I found myself racking my brains for a nano-second while I thought how progressive the Brits were getting with their entertainment programming. Then my brain caught up a little bit and I found myself saying, rather eruditely under the circumstances, “Er… what?”

“Well,” said my mother, “I thought I would try watching SABC2 for a change and it turned out to be quite good!”

I really was lost way out in left field by now, and so could only reply, rather lost for words, “But you never watch SABC programming – you’re always on British stuff.”

(Yeah, yeah, I know. I was being a bit thick. It had been a long day and a longer week.)

My mother finally relented, this time with a downright cheeky laugh.

“I wanted to see what was going to happen with that State of the Nation Address,” she replied merrily, “and so I tuned into SABC2 to see if he would start his speech on time. And of course he didn’t!”

“Oh,” she continued brightly, in a way that reminded me suddenly of her irreverent Celtic heritage, “it was really rather good. They all started out arguing, and there was lots of usage of the F-word…”

Here she rather startlingly illustrated the point by suddenly raising her middle finger at me from across the dining room table. My mother NEVER waves her middle finger at anyone, and nor does she EVER say the F-word.

“… and lots of shouting, and the speaker trying to restore order by saying, ‘Honourable Malema! Honourable Malema!’ and then finally the police or the army were there disguised as waiters, and fists were flying and more name calling and eff-ing and blind-ing, and from time to time the communications were cut, and Julius Malema and his EFF, all in their red outfits, were roughed up and escorted out, and then the DA walked out too in protest…!”

849x493q70violence-eff-parliament

I was quite spellbound. My mother is normally a very good citizen who applauds law and order.

“…and so, all in all, you missed a right good punch-up!” she concluded brightly.

I think I lasted about ten seconds before I found myself weeping with laughter with my head down on the table. I had never quite heard the State of the Nation shenanigans described like this before.

“Of course,” she continued on a more sombre note, “what DOES the rest of the world think about us when they watch it on TV?”

I truly have no real answer for that one. I can only hope that the term ‘noisy democracy’ passes muster for a while longer. Otherwise we must just call it The Julius Malema Show next year, in advance.

 

PS

But thanks, mom. You made my day!

xxx

Asimbonanga for Madiba

Here is my tribute to Nelson Mandela – first published July 2012.

The world will remember the date you left us: 5 December 2013.

Rest in peace: great man, great humanitarian, humble human being. 

 

All the colours of the rainbow (and the healing power of music)

My children are colour-blind.

It’s awesome.

In this still-fledgeling democracy that is South Africa today, 18 years after the country queued, and queued, and queued some more to cast its vote in the first democratic elections, my children are colour-blind.

It is a great joy to me.

They do not see black, white, pink, purple or green – only their circles of friends. And in this world of theirs, all ‘colours’ of the rainbow are equal, with the possible exception of real-life pink for Liam, who wrinkles up his nose and tells me in his little gruff voice that ‘pink is for girls mom!’.

And my boys can dance, also.

liam-school-play-smaller

Who says white boys can’t dance?

I watched the children covertly the other night while I was in and out of the kitchen preparing dinner. Liam and Matthew were in the lounge where I’d introduced them to a Johnny Clegg CD – he who is known as ‘the white Zulu’ – and they’d loved the music instantly. They swayed, they stomped, they moved to the beat and they felt the rhythm.

I was so proud.

They’d discovered ‘Asimbonanga’ as their track of choice, and they played it over and over again. They know it practically off by heart now, including most of the isiZulu.

The song stirs up such memories for me. It was one of the anthems of my youth, when as a sheltered young adult I first learned – properly – about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, who was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 27 years. At the time I first got to know the song, Madiba was still some years away from his release from his island prison, Robben Island off Cape Town.

My friends and I went to quite a few concerts where Johnny Clegg played, first with Juluka and later with Savuka. He and his early-rainbow nation brothers and sisters sang and danced their hearts out, and whenever they performed ‘Asimbonanga’, the emotion in the room was always tangible and always running high – but in a good way.

There we were, crowds of young, mainly white youth in an apartheid South Africa that was not of our making, and there as Johnny sang we fell silent, swaying with one movement, arms uplifted, cigarette lighters lit in that universal music concert’s peace sign.

There we linked arms, minds and souls as we listened, united, to the haunting melody and the even more haunting words. There we remembered, through the song, fallen heroes of the struggle, black and white, male and female. There we were united in understanding and a yearning for peace, even if we couldn’t speak isiZulu. Somehow, we knew what the words meant in their very essence, deep down in our core.

There at those Johnny Clegg concerts, we were part of the fore-runner of the dream of a rainbow nation that has almost come to pass.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

Chorus….

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Chorus….

Steven Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination) 

And as I listen again to these inspirational and haunting words, I ask myself when, indeed, will we arrive at the destination we were all looking for in those days of dreaming? The days when we voted with our hearts and our souls for a united rainbow country?

I ask myself:

When will the children be educated as they were promised?

When will the women and children be free from the scourge of rape and murder?

When will government corruption and ineptitude be punished?

When will politicians who lie, cheat and steal acknowledge their guilt and tell the nation, “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I will make amends. Yes, I will step down”?

When will nurses and policemen and teachers be properly paid, properly trained, properly mindful of their hugely important role in this fledgeling democracy of ours? 

When will the taxi and bus industries, which transport millions of people every day, be better regulated so that we are not outraged on a daily and weekly basis by stories of horror motor crashes that kill and maim innocent people?

When will motorists stop shooting their cars recklessly through bright scarlet traffic lights, endangering the lives of law-abiding citizens?

When will motorists start buckling up their children in car seats?

When will we adopt a culture of kindness to animals?

When will….

I must stop before I descend into mere ranting.

I must look on the bright side. I was not made to ignore the silver linings.

I must remember that the voice of the people is growing – yes, I do believe so. Think about the outrage around the e-tolling saga; think about the outrage around Nkandla (God BLESS Thuli Madonsela!); think about the journalists and satirists and yes, even businessmen who speak out – and out – and out some more despite legislative attempts to gag them.

Think about the good initiatives that take place in South Africa, led by business, led by the media, led by the medical industry, led by private individuals.

Think about the Madiba legacy – the magic that was his; the magic that pulled a country back from the brink of civil war; the magic that can still be if we only look for it and better yet, create it.

Think about it.

Think about the children of South Africa as they play together on playgrounds that are all the colours of the rainbow nation.

Think about it.

And then do a little spot of rainbow magic Madiba singing and dancing, by order of the great man himself.

Oh, oh, oh to have been there….

Hey wena!

Yes, you.

And me.

And you, and you, and you…

Let’s work together to arrive at our intended destination after all.

Let’s blind South Africa with all the colours and all the hope of the rainbow.

Think about it.

Then do.

So fragile are we all

When Reeva Steenkamp died, almost one month ago now, I was playing a Sting album in the Panda as my ‘album of the week’ – my usual driving strategy is to switch over to music when the news just gets unbearable. I nearly crashed the car when I heard the news that morning. Later, when I was still digesting the first snippets of the terrible story, along with the rest of South Africa, I changed over as usual to my music, to think for a while.

Unexpectedly, I found Sting’s inadvertent commentary in the song that played next.

How appropriate his words are here. Startlingly so, I think.

A heartbreaking footnote to a tragedy that has ruined so many lives.

A mourning song for all of us crying for another lost hero who was unable to bear the burden of being ‘super’ all the time; another woman in South Africa whose light has been put out prematurely; who has been lost forever to the shameful violence of our times.

Simply tragic.

As Sting says: “How fragile we are.”

Even those with the guns. Especially those with the guns?

Lest we forget.

 

Here are the words to ‘Fragile’ by Sting (with a link to a performance below)

StingFragile 

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could

For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

Here is Sting in Berlin.

 

Sad footnote:

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one”

How do I tell this story to my children who revered Oscar during the Olympics; who looked for him and cheered and clapped for him – because he was South African; because he was ‘The Blade Runner’; because in their minds he was differently-abled and not disabled? How do I tell them why he is in the media now when they don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘murder’?

I have decided that for now they are too young to know.

I wish I was too.

 

Final (trying to be less sad) footnote:

This is why we have our artists and musicians: sometimes they bring wisdom, sometimes comfort, sometimes both. I would hope most people think this includes our writers too…

 

Final final final footnote:

This was a very hard one to publish. It has taken me a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the colours of the rainbow (and the healing power of music)

My children are colour-blind.

It’s awesome.

In this still-fledgeling democracy that is South Africa today, 18 years after the country queued, and queued, and queued some more to cast its vote in the first democratic elections, my children are colour-blind.

It is a great joy to me.

They do not see black, white, pink, purple or green – only their circles of friends. And in this world of theirs, all ‘colours’ of the rainbow are equal, with the possible exception of real-life pink for Liam, who wrinkles up his nose and tells me in his little gruff voice that ‘pink is for girls mom!’.

And my boys can dance, also.

Who says white boys can’t dance?

I watched the children covertly the other night while I was in and out of the kitchen preparing dinner. Liam and Matthew were in the lounge where I’d introduced them to a Johnny Clegg CD – he who is known as ‘the white Zulu’ – and they’d loved the music instantly. They swayed, they stomped, they moved to the beat and they felt the rhythm.

I was so proud.

They’d discovered ‘Asimbonanga’ as their track of choice, and they played it over and over again. They know it practically off by heart now, including most of the isiZulu.

The song stirs up such memories for me. It was one of the anthems of my youth, when as a sheltered young adult I first learned – properly – about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, who was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 27 years. At the time I first got to know the song, Madiba was still some years away from his release from his island prison, Robben Island off Cape Town.

My friends and I went to quite a few concerts where Johnny Clegg played, first with Juluka and later with Savuka. He and his early-rainbow nation brothers and sisters sang and danced their hearts out, and whenever they performed ‘Asimbonanga’, the emotion in the room was always tangible and always running high – but in a good way.

There we were, crowds of young, mainly white youth in an apartheid South Africa that was not of our making, and there as Johnny sang we fell silent, swaying with one movement, arms uplifted, cigarette lighters lit in that universal music concert’s peace sign.

There we linked arms, minds and souls as we listened, united, to the haunting melody and the even more haunting words. There we remembered, through the song, fallen heroes of the struggle, black and white, male and female. There we were united in understanding and a yearning for peace, even if we couldn’t speak isiZulu. Somehow, we knew what the words meant in their very essence, deep down in our core.

There at those Johnny Clegg concerts, we were part of the fore-runner of the dream of a rainbow nation that has almost come to pass.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

Chorus….

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Chorus….

Steven Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination) 

And as I listen again to these inspirational and haunting words, I ask myself when, indeed, will we arrive at the destination we were all looking for in those days of dreaming? The days when we voted with our hearts and our souls for a united rainbow country?

I ask myself:

When will the children be educated as they were promised?

When will the women and children be free from the scourge of rape and murder?

When will government corruption and ineptitude be punished?

When will politicians who lie, cheat and steal acknowledge their guilt and tell the nation, “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I will make amends. Yes, I will step down?”

When will nurses and policemen and teachers be properly paid, properly trained, properly mindful of their hugely important role in this fledgeling democracy of ours? 

When will the taxi and bus industries, which transport millions of people every day, be better regulated so that we are not outraged on a daily and weekly basis by stories of horror motor crashes that kill and maim innocent people?

When will motorists stop shooting their cars recklessly through bright scarlet traffic lights, endangering the lives of law-abiding citizens?

When will motorists start buckling up their children in car seats?

When will we adopt a culture of kindness to animals?

When will….

I must stop before I descend into mere ranting.

I must look on the bright side. I was not made to ignore the silver linings.

I must remember that the voice of the people is growing – yes, I do believe so. Think about the outrage around the e-tolling saga; think about the outrage around a R2 billion presidential jet; think about the journalists and satirists and yes, even businessmen who speak out – and out – and out some more despite legislative attempts to gag them.

Think about the good initiatives that take place in South Africa, led by business, led by the media, led by the medical industry, led by private individuals.

Think about the Madiba legacy – the magic that was his; the magic that pulled a country back from the brink of civil war; the magic that can still be if we only look for it and better yet, create it.

Think about it.

Think about the children of South Africa as they play together on playgrounds that are all the colours of the rainbow nation.

Think about it.

And then do a little spot of rainbow magic Madiba singing and dancing, by order of the great man himself.

Oh, oh, oh to have been there….

Hey wena!

Yes, you.

And me.

And you, and you, and you…

Let’s work together to arrive at our intended destination after all.

Let’s blind South Africa with all the colours and all the hope of the rainbow.

Think about it.

Then do.

Absent without leave

Wow, it’s been a while. I feel like I was absent without leave – and I missed my blogging time so much!

I’ve been seriously busy and even time in the evenings after work has been at a premium lately.

So what exactly have I been doing?

Well, firstly I left my old job and tried to do a really good handover for my colleagues. So that was a fairly solid month of effort. After a total of over seven and a half years working at my old company, it was in many ways a wrench to leave, even though I was looking for new things to learn and ways to improve my knowledge and skills. I worked with some good people at that ‘big granite spaceship’.

You know who you are, good people of the big granite spaceship!

The Big Granite Spaceship

Then I started my new job.

Steep learning curve? You could say.

What’s that crazy switchback street in San Francisco called again? Oh yes, Lombard Street, which lays claim to being the most winding street in the world.

Well anyway that’s pretty much how I think of my recent learning curve! It’s getting easier… one day at a time. I think I am currently coming to the metaphorical middle of Lombard Street at the moment.

I should give myself another month, says my new boss. At least…

The real trick, of course, is when I am metaphorically able to run up Lombard Street from bottom to top without needing to stop and catch my breath. I shall then consider that I have ‘arrived’.

A steep learning curve…!

Finally, I was involved in an awesome freelance project relating to the revision of a three-book set about the Kruger National Park – helping to write and edit website copy about it. Check it out here.

I learned such a lot about conservation in general, relating to one of the world’s oldest preserved national parks – and, arguably, one of the world’s best-managed national parks, for an impressive century and more. The Kruger is not just about looking for the ‘big five’! although a sighting of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and/or buffalo is always an awesome privilege. I have only been to the Kruger once before now, but have full intentions of going again with my family just as soon as I can.

Anyway that’s what’s been keeping me busy, and for now, it’s so good to be back together with my blog.

It’s a bit of a love affair, you know…

Watch this space for more just as soon as I can!

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

My husband found an old photo of himself the other day. He was – I’m guessing – about 26 at the time, and, I thought, absolutely gorgeous.

In the photo – which is sepia-coloured, to add to its nostalgic charm – he has long blonde hair with a bandanna tied around it. He’s wearing a flowing shirt and, around his neck, an amulet on a rope. He looks like someone straight out of the sixties.

As I initially digested the photo, remembering the Frank I’d first met – though not the Frank I’d first dated, because by then he’d cut his hair – I wished for a brief intense moment that he’d still looked like that when he and I were first sharing our lives.

In my younger years I was often a sucker for a man with long hair. I think it’s my yearning-for-the-sixties thing. I’ve always liked the idea of the flower power movement and that tipping point when the western world, for a short while, was less materialistic and young adults yearned for peace on a global scale.

(Note to cynics: no. It’s not about the sex and drugs, though I’ll surely subscribe to the rock and roll.)

I was lucky enough to work in California for a few months. I had my 27th birthday there. When I visited San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district (‘The Haight’) and walked the beautiful Golden Gate bridge, I felt that I should have been surrounded by long-haired ‘gentle people’ in flowing shirts and bell-bottomed jeans, strumming guitars and reminding me to wear flowers in my hair.

“If you’re going to San Francisco 

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

If you’re going to San Francisco 

You’re gonna meet some gentle people there…”

I heard the theme music everywhere I walked, and as a souvenir of my ‘California dreaming’ I got my belly button pierced in Haight Ashbury when I’d finished my temporary three-month job. Then I hopped on a Greyhound and travelled around the country for a few amazing weeks before finally going home to South Africa and the end of my American sabbatical.

I didn’t know it then but I was going home to a future that would include a gentle man who, in his early twenties, had sung and played the guitar in a pub. This was also the time he was growing out his hair and, with it, some of his memories of the war in which for two years he’d been a reluctant teenaged conscript.

We met years later and of course began sharing some of our stories – a necessary part of early dating, I think, before a new couple starts making their own memories together. But it’s crossed my mind on more than one occasion to be jealous that we didn’t know each other earlier in our lives.

I have wished that I knew the Frank with long hair.

I have wished that he knew me for more years with the body that was mine in my youth.

I have wished that we both knew each other when the wrinkles were fewer and the cynicism less.

When the background notes to life were more about music and less about money worries. When there seemed to be more time for fun.

I have been jealous of the women in his life who had those younger, less troubled, more energetic moments with him. I have mentally wished away the men I wasted my time on before he came. I have wished that we’d had our children together sooner. I’ve told him all of this. His response?

“I was too full of kak when I was younger,” he told me. “I would have ruined it with my issues.”

Yes, but that long hair.

That unlined face.

That untroubled gaze.

The music in your fingers that you release only seldom, now.

“And you,” I have told him mournfully, “could have known me with a better body for more years than you did!”

And he has reminded me that he knew the body that grew our two children. Which is logic that you simply cannot argue with, damn it. (Although the slimming efforts do continue unabated.)

And so I am okay with not knowing – and loving – the Frank who had the long hair.

Instead, I got the man who grew more gentle.

I think we must go to San Francisco together one day. I will wear a flower in my hair, and find a bandanna for his as we walk across the Golden Gate bridge. It doesn’t even matter if it’s short hair and not long.

And I think most people who see us will get it, and smile.

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