Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Mistaken Identity

Over the years I have been trying to understand what it means to be a black person in post-apartheid South Africa. My identity is shaped by growing up amongst black people like myself. I have also spent extended periods of time with the others from the South African population groups. In all these I have learned that the black man is perceived differently by almost all the population groups. What is astounding in this lesson is that the white view of the black is the more dominant.

I have been fortunate to have had people who were conscious of the challenges that the black man is confronted with throughout out my life. I would listen to the many discussions that my parents would have with some of their visitors at our household, or when we would visit some of their friends. You see I was born at the time when the fight against apartheid was gathering its momentum; I was in grade 6 in ’94 in a school dominated by the Indian population. I had an appetite for reading material and would read my dad’s literature on the defiance campaigns and the struggle against apartheid. My mom’s trade union newsletters gave me a sense of pride as a young black boy that the black man was reclaiming his position in society. All this made me conscious of race by that age. During break time at school we would sometimes play soccer with the other boys and to form teams we would say “it’s the blacks against the Indians”.

I remember one occasion when my family and I went grocery shopping at the Hyperama. For the little boy in me this was a grand occasion because it also afforded me the chance to get a close look at white people and their habits, a chance to play games that their kids played as was shown on television. Whiteness seemed a grand life for me. Together with westernisation it continues to be portrayed wonderfully in the media. Our limited exposure to reading material meant that we paged through magazines while picture reading. We would say to each other, “the page on the left is yours and the one on the right is yours”. As we paged through the magazine we would then celebrate or lament at what the pages revealed. If your page did not have any fancy pictures with white models showcasing clothes or a certain lifestyle you would be the loser. This is not senseless blabber as you may probably think; I am trying to paint the extent to which I comprehend my blackness.

By the time I was a teenager I was attending a school that was dominantly white. In my grade 8 class we were only 4 black people in a class of 32. Contrary to what I had learned in my mom’s newsletters over the years, numbers did not matter in this new environment. One had to adopt another strategy if one was to advance change in the way blacks were treated in this school. Before you make quick conclusions, I remember only two occasions where we were referred to as kaffirs during my time at that school. In retrospect, this made the white people seem good to us. They were giving us education and Christianity; they knew these were good for us. If we refused these, we would turn out like other black people who were lazy and drunks they told us. The prospect of being lazy and a drunk did not appeal to me so we worked harder and accepted our situation. With that said, I came to know for sure where my place was in the greater scheme of things. Building solidarity seemed the next best strategy but I quickly learned that as the 4 black people in the class we saw the world around us very differently.

It is hard understanding my blackness in post-apartheid South Africa. Through my experiences of advancing the struggle against racial inequality I have come to learn of others like me who are also struggling. They are in other parts of Africa, in Asia, in the south Americas, in Scandinavian Europe, in all parts of the world. While they are not black like me I have found that they are struggling too. In their struggles I have found solidarity. In their pain I have questioned my alleged freedom; how can I be free when others are suffering from one form of oppression or the other? Even if they may not be in my immediate environment I find it hard to consider myself a free man. I find it hard to live with my fellow brothers and sisters who consider themselves free. Those who see themselves as free celebrate and claim that they have the vote; yet this vote yields no change in the status quo. The only change I see are the faces of government. It is hard to understand my blackness in relation to these group of people. It is even harder to comprehend y blackness in the midst of those who advocate that we be colour blind. In the quest to defeat racial inequality and embracing my blackness I have encountered an enemy more sinister; colour blindness.

My blackness is intertwined with the struggles for emancipation of the people of Palestine; it is rooted in the cause for justice in Yemen. My blackness is the face of poverty in India; it is in the labours on which capitalism thrives. My blackness is the cry for a better education across the world, it is echoed in the billions of youth with no jobs the world over. My blackness is drained in the blood that is throughout Africa today, it is seen in the eyes of hungry children. My blackness is suffering at a time when the world has every means to make me heal, to make me whole. My blackness is beyond skin colour. It is an identity of the poor, the forgotten citizens the world over.

My blackness has been misunderstood because many have feared it. The winds of change forever blow and they awaken my soul to a new day. My blackness is the only hope for humanity. It carries no gun and is clothed in love. My blackness is an embodiment of Ubuntu; it is the understanding that no human being should dominate another. My blackness is the protection of children from hunger and disease; it is empowerment for the women. My blackness is in restoring pride and dignity; it is in standing side by side as brothers and sisters knowing that we are all not destitute. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Them Hypocrites!

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.

Switch on the tele all you see
Are young people being sold beers.
A strategy to kill and mislead us.
Where is the fairness?
Maybe it’s lost in our blindness.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.

I speak not of my brothers and sisters
But of the politicians who are reapers
Of our toil and labours.
In a country filled with filth and plunder
Where the people live in poverty and squalor.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.

Why is it that many people still live below the poverty line?
When all I see are politicians queuing in wine-and-dines.
Maybe they are no longer human.
Hey I heard money can make you fine;
I may just give it a try.
But then I recall

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.

Tell-a-lie-vision is just an illusion
Created to spread some confusion
Amongst the young upcoming nation.
Lock away the television
For it distorts the vision
That one day we will pull this mission.
Its fruits are contrary to moral regeneration.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.
Them hypocrites.

If I get arrested or killed
Know that it’s because I spoke the truth.
If we get enlightened and healed
Let’s be generous in giving
And shout freedom from the roof
If you no longer hear my voice
Know that it’s because I’ve been silenced.
Silenced for moving forward when they point us backwards.
Eliminated for the ideas that reveal the true cowards.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.
Them hypocrites.

We are constantly sacrificed
For having braved to try
To evade poverty and their many lies
So that our young may have a chance to survive.
The forgotten promises a soliloquy
Of many hurts and misery
Suffered by the people. It’s a mystery
How we keep falling for the same fallacy.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.
Them hypocrites!

Many heroes have fallen
Our heroines forgotten
Our pride is now trodden
Upon by those who call themselves the proven.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.
Them hypocrites!

Democracy was a dream
That maybe we could achieve
Economic freedom with ease.
Political power is now the new opium
That sweeps the nation
While they steal and plunder
While we sit and wonder
While they build Nkandla.

Them belly full.
Their mouths silent.
Their minds empty.
Their conscience dead.
Them hypocrites!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Of taxis and drivers

Some of the people I admire in South Africa are taxi drivers. They are responsible for literally driving the country's economy when you consider the millions of commuters who rely on this mode of transport.

Everyday I take a taxi to work. Let me quickly point out that this is not by choice; I simply do not earn enough to afford a car of my own. More than three quarters of the people I commute with are in a similar financial situation as me though we never talk about this. I have silently concluded that this is the most important law amongst commuters; we don't ask each other why we are commuting. In certain conversations we may refer to owning cars of our own but I have since observed that such conversations are immediately followed by a quick silence; perhaps a sign that reality has set in and the thought of owning a car seems realistically distant. This is further testament of our economic status in the social hierarchy. With that said I am rather fond of the taxi.

There is no social classification amongst those who commute. This is because most of us who use taxis wish we were not subject to this form of transport. We have accepted that the taxi is the only economically viable means for us and with that we open up to each other in ways that are perhaps rare in other social settings. Similarly I have also witnessed rather alarming behaviour while commuting. I have seen drivers younger than myself hurl abuses at people old enough to be their parents. I have also had belly-wrenching laughs as a result of a joke or a story being shared by one of the commuters. In all fairness taxis are an experience that every South African should experience. Who knows, maybe we would be more tolerant of each other if we commuted together.

Month-end is a really special time for taxi commuters. This time is marked by the fact that the majority of the commuters have received their pittance after many hours of labour in their respective employ. It is during these times that the taxi driver will be asked for chama station by some commuter. Loosely translated, chama station refers to a pee stop. Such a stop is always requested by those who have had a couple of drinks that alter one's state of mind. What I have found impressive in this is that the taxi drivers usually have the patience to grant such a person such a stop. This despite the endless ques back at the taxi rank of anxious commuters eagerly awaiting to get home. Perhaps this is why the taxi drivers drive at such high speeds, more so at this time of the month. Mind you, less than one percent of taxi drivers are women.

Whenever I commute I always find time to observe the other cars on the road. From fancy cars to fast ones, the pristine and the not-so-roadworthy, I observe. I have also observed the people who drive these cars. There are those who just drive on, their minds on the task at hand I imagine. Then there are those who choose to wander while they drive. You can tell this type of driver by their wandering eyes when they overtake you or you overtake them. They will either have expressionless faces or an expression that compels you to look away. One particular type of driver has always fascinated me whenever I undertake these observations.

This is the type of driver who has arrived; the one who has made it. Allow me to quickly point out that those who think they have made it drive their cars while those who have actually made it are driven. The ones who have made it generally have no time to stare at people as they overtake the taxis that carry them. I always imagine them to play classical music as they drive the luxurious sedans, not a worry on their faces. I sometimes imagine that they are rushing to some important meeting, or they have some pressing business that they need to attend to. Even amongst this type of driver there exists another kind, one who is king of the road.

This type of driver is actually driven, and usually has an escort of cars with flashing blue lights. They travel at lightning speed though I have observed that they never have pressing business. Let me rephrase that statement, my bias defeats me. They give us the impression that they have pressing business by driving at such high speeds. I suppose that this is part of their act. I recently observed a few of them clad in blue overalls speed past us one morning.

When I bought the afternoon edition of the local paper I learned that they had been on an election campaign, and as part of their campaign they had decided to make an appearance at a rural road construction site. They ironically took the time to also visit a few locals in the area and listened to their concerns and made promises to attend to the challenges the locals shared with them.

With the elections coming up soon I am sure I will be seeing more of this type of driver. I think my constant referral to them as driver really elevates their status because they sit at the back and get driven. In any case, society has already elevated them. You can tell this by their bulging physique. I always reserve them a seat next to whenever I climb into a taxi. My ride with them in a taxi is drawing nearer.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Of Grave Digging and Life

I recently learned of my neighbour's sudden passing. As customary I went over to be part of the group of men to dig his grave.
The digging started a little after 01h00. I could hear from my window the pick hitting the many rocks as the men laboured, some drunken laughter a steady accompaniment of heavy toil. I awoke and gingerly made my way to where they were digging.
As customary, the last arrival is first to go in when the bloke down below gets tired. My turn promptly came before I had much time to psyche myself. I have always imagined what the mood would be like when my turn to have my own grave prepared came. Will the men have a sense of loss as they laboured? Will it perhaps be that they'll be merry and of jovial spirit, celebrating the life that once was (and still is)?
"Shona khona ndoda, usand' uk'fika" (Go, you are the last to arrive) was the call that sent me down below. Upon landing I regretted downing the last two rounds some three to four hours before. My head spun for a while and I found myself mumbling something barely audible. I reached for the pick and gave my first hit. I was in for it.
The grave digging is one of the last gatherings that bring together the young and old men of my community. With the roll out and demarcation of municipal wards our traditional chiefs have lost their power over the people. Perhaps it is the people who have deserted the traditional ways and authorities. I have always wondered about democracy and its role in the African context.
We die because we lose our ways I contemplated with the last blow with the pick. I would be back to dig some more; I should not give all my energy at the first go.

The men always joke when we dig. As young men we get a rare opportunity to pick the brains of the elderly men. This is one of my favourite parts of grave digging. In African culture we pride ourselves in painting an elaborate picture when making a point. This we have learned from our forefathers and is passed on to us through story-telling. The other part that I like with this process of grave digging is when we share traditional beer, umqombothi, with the older men. For me, this sharing of umqombothi signals a silent truth. It is acknowledging that we are mortals; our day will also come.

The atmosphere remained bubbly throughout our toil. The beer helped our chorus of controlled laughter at many truths and contradictions of life and afterlife. We were men of one heart at that time; or was it for the moment? Our unity reminded the older men of what once was. It reminded me of what we could be.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Of dreams and folly

I love going to the beach. The vast and open shores give comfort in a way that I'm not yet able to capture in words.
'I feel complete' was the thought that crossed my mind as I searched for the source of this love for the beach.

My love for the beach has been a turbulent one. Some 16 years ago I nearly lost my life at the beach. That was my first near-death experience. The swallowing of vast amounts of sea water and the visions of death that flashed through my mind on that day gave birth to the fighting spirit within. Ironically, my love for the beach was re-affirmed on that day despite the difficult and challenging circumstances. Isn't it said that true love triumphs and manifests through the most trying of times?

Having spent part of my childhood in Soweto, the beach was an unexplored avenue. It became a gateway for my imagination to run wild- it still does today. The vastness of the sea mesmerized me, and my inability to swim was compensated by illusions of walking upon the sea like Christ. Imaginations of sea monsters and breathing under water without any machinery captured me. The hard reality though, entailed evading white people's dogs that terrorized me. Couldn't they read the signs that said dogs were not allowed?! My love for the beach still remains though, despite these dogs.

While I'm at it, perhaps the absence of black people at the beach, with the exception of major holidays, is related to the ever-present dogs. Hmmm.
I regularly carry a stick with me. 'It adds to your beach comber tendencies' a friend said. Little did she know that it's there to help fend off over-zealous dogs keen on biting more than they can chew.

Just the other day I was walking along the shore and happened to strike a conversation with an American woman who flattered me by suggesting that I have an accent. What a joke, I thought.

I love how relaxed I feel when I'm at the beach. The inner child gets really excited as I splash and dive at the breaking waves. I just wish more black people would join me when I'm there. Perhaps they'll witness a miracle as I eventually walk upon the waters.

Monday, 29 April 2013


Mandla watched the sky as he drifted far and wide in thought. The cool still air after the evening storm seemed to help him slip deeper and deeper into thought.

Flashes of distant lightening made him appreciate what was surging through his veins. They reminded him that he was alive and what he was feeling was real. The smile on his face, a clear testament of the memories invoked by the thoughts, lingered for what seemed like ages as his eyes sparkled from the distant lightening flashes and the fire that was burning inside him.

Just a few nights ago he had for the first time decided to let go of his fears and all that held him back. He had decided to confront his feelings and listen to his heart. Letting go of his carefully guarded mind was a hard-fought battle but he finally let go and surrendered for he saw the futility of fighting on. He risked being taken for a fool or even being rejected he silently contemplated as a cool breeze swept through the maize plantation bringing goose bumps on his dark skin as if to quench the inner fire raging through him.

It was not new this sensation he felt in his belly at every lingering thought of her. He had felt it for the first time a good four years ago. The only difference now was that he was now in a better position to deal with it and had the frame of mind to see it through. In his mind he knew very well that he didn't have a plan of action but to give his all. As for any expectations that accompanied his thoughts he quickly dismissed for many a time his expectations had not served him.

Like a man with a clear plan of action he stepped closer to his destiny. The heavens above wished him well with a handful of shooting stars, a fitting arrival and dawn of a new chapter.

Friday, 19 April 2013


Tell me dear brother, where do you see yourself tomorrow? Yes, Tomorrow. It is a scary thought altogether, the prospect that tomorrow is upon you. Looking at the way panic sets in your eyes, I am inclined to think that you had not realized it. Yes brother, Tomorrow is here. Tomorrow is now!

Where will you be? What will you be doing? How will you be doing it?

I offer no solutions to these questions – those are within you. No, don’t be surprised. If you took the time and looked within yourself you will soon find them.

Go forth then, embrace Tomorrow as a sister. Embrace Tomorrow as a lover. Embrace Her as an opportunity to change your life, an opportunity to make life and give life.

Loosen the shackles that bound your mind. Gently now, the rush of liberation will have you addicted. Do you feel the weight off your shoulders? You have just taken the first step towards Tomorrow.
Tomorrow is the dawn of a new day. It is the beginning of something. Tomorrow is the hope which comforts us in the present. Tomorrow is the medicine of ills suffered in the past. Tomorrow is the manure used in greener pastures.

Arise oh brother! Tomorrow is knocking on your door. Shine for She greets you with the warmth that makes you forget the hurts of yesterday. Set your feet on the path that leads to Tomorrow. Oh brother I beg, hold Tomorrow’s hand and let Her be your guide.
Look not at the present. The past is too much with us. The present is too much for us. Tomorrow is who knows where. Tomorrow spells peace and refreshment. She sets the soul at ease.
Chase Tomorrow. Chase Her with all your might! Chase Her with your last breath, your last ounce of energy. Chase Her oh brother. She is getting away.

Let Tomorrow be the code you live by. Let Her be the reflection of your day’s work when you lay your head to rest. Let Tomorrow b e the yardstick you use to measure your success. Let Her be part of your being.

She is beautiful I tell you. She reminds me of the African sunset. She reminded my mother of the lightning that illuminates the sky on a dark night. She reminds my father of the love we all need. She reminds my sister of the joys of youth.

What does she remind you of my brother?
Is this not your future?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Fleeting Thought

Oh cold unfeeling thought
I am aware of your presence.
Nigh and light I do sense
The countless images you bring forth.

Lurking behind the shadows in my mind
Flowing ever so sublime,
I entertain you with great ease.
Of my dillusions you displease.

Terrible and wicked you are!
For that damsel there yonder
Surely is covered down under
Without me having to bother.

Terrible and fleeting thought
You and I have so long fought.
Yet you wage on, without a shudder;
For how long without surrender?

You are a part of me I acknowledge.
Some consider this to be a privilege -
To be at peace with you,
To learn that you can be subdued.

Dreadful and feeble thought
Life's companion you have been.
When I am gone and nought
take me where I have never been.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Stranger

The stranger walked briskly towards the two men; they paid him no attention as they searched through the bins lining the beach-walk for food. Judging from the look of satisfaction on their faces, the stranger concluded that they had made a good meal of the left-overs discarded by visitors who had been at the beach earlier. He walked on further, feeling helpless and useless, his attention now captured by the rising moon behind the clouds and how it cast a shimmering path of light on the sea that seemed to shine into the horizon.

His thoughts of the shimmering moon upon the waters were interrupted by a figure walking towards him in the opposite direction. The figure was clearly under the influence of some intoxicating beverage judging from how its movements were a series of repeated steps in whichever direction necessary for it to remain on its feet. As the stranger got closer to the figure he noticed the figure transform into a young man of no more than thirty years of age. This young man stopped at the nearest bin and held it in both hands in a fashion that a person would when the alcohol turns in one's stomach and wants to make some escape in the same direction it had been consumed. It turns out that the swaying young man is actually looking for food; just like the two previous men the stranger had passed some paces back.

The stranger walked on, perhaps for some thirty paces and he found his attention diverted to some chatter on his right. He cast his eyes to where the chorus of jovial voices were coming from. It was a restaurant with an open deck looking out at sea. Seated in groups at the tables on the deck were white people enjoying the cool evening air, their generous meals before them, and everything else that white people enjoy. The stranger felt a surge of frustration and suppressed anger rush through his being as his mind wondered how, barely a few paces away, some men had been eating out of a dustbin. As he tried to reason on how things changed yet remain the same he looked over his shoulder before making his way across the street.

Across the street, on the stretch of grass regularly used for the flea market on Sunday was a marquee. This wasn't just an ordinary marquee. This marquee was especially erected for the Easter church celebrations. For what reason the church had decided to erect it at the beach, the stranger didn't bother to think. The frustration and suppressed anger he had felt only a few moments ago reached an almost unbearable crescendo accompanied by the music flowing from the people singing in the marquee. This unique blend of emotions and music made the stranger feel like crying. It couldn't be the frustration and suppressed anger that made his eyes well up in tears he silently concluded as he picked up his pace in an effort to get away from within earshot of the music as soon as possible.

He crossed yet another street and immediately upon reaching the other side he was greeted by a beggar. The beggar followed his greeting with a request for cash. The stranger mumbled some inaudible words to the beggar as he entered a nearby shop. A few minutes later the stranger emerged from the shop carrying a plastic bag and walked towards the beggar. He paused briefly in front of the beggar and pulled out a brown loaf of bread, handed it to the beggar, while adding that he didn't have any money but could afford to buy that loaf for the beggar.
As the stranger turned and continued his walk a smile appeared on his face. The uselessness and helplessness, the frustration and suppressed anger he had felt, and the sorrow brought on by the music from the marquee miraculously lifted off him. The gratitude expressed by the beggar had done the stranger a world of good.

Taxi Affair

Conversations with strangers are much like a refreshing cup of coffee. We so gladly and willingly confide our darkest secrets to strangers without the slightest of suspicions. The stranger, on the other hand, needs neither formal approach nor qualification in analysing our experiences and at times our fears. I remember confiding in a stranger on more than one occasion without having to think twice about it.
South Africa’s favourite mode of transport, for those of us who do not get by from month to month on overdraft and credit facilities, is the taxi or minibus as some would call it. I never really appreciated the prospect of being packed like a can of sardines into a taxi that’s certified to carry fifteen passengers but takes eighteen or nineteen passengers. All of this, mind you, is done to accommodate the long queues and scores of us trying to get home or to our jobs. An appalling attempt at giving us a false sense of security if you ask me; who says the spirit of Ubuntu does not prevail?
A friend of mine attended a course in Cape Town and offered me the use of his vehicle while he was away. You can imagine my excitement at the prospect of avoiding being jammed into a taxi with ear-drum-splitting music pounding in the background. The thoughts of open road filled my imagination!

My excitement and wild imaginations were short-lived. I was late for work on the first day I drove to work due to heavy traffic which I had not made provision for. The drive to and from work was also not as exciting as I had anticipated. The looks on the other drivers' faces were far from friendly - almost every one of them was irritated and trying to get wherever it is they were going. Maybe it was the heat. On the fourth day of the week I felt strangely lonely. This was a loneliness stemmed by the need to associate, a need to belong. The more I dug deeper into the cause of this hollow feeling within, the more I realisedhow comforting riding in a taxi actually was.

South Africans are a very sociable people. You’ll climb into a taxi and you will be fortunate to ride with a man of the cloth, a young accountant who’s doing her articles eager to prove herself, and a nurse who has had a rough night-shift at the hospital. This is one of infinite combinations of passengers and your imagination is allowed to stretch itself. As a cherry on top, your chauffeur’s constant move is in and out of the fast and emergency lanes. Allow me to add that the ‘emergency’ in this case is the shortening of the queue back at the taxi rank. As the journey proceeds, (and visions of death flash), the man of the cloth is more than likely to offer spiritual guidance and a way to redemption in this forsaken place called Earth. The young accountant will probably complement the forsaken state of the Earth by offering advice on how to evade income tax, while the nurse will tell you where to get off for trying to flirt with her.

How sad. The opportunity to exploit so much potential, advice for free and a possible date go begging. I have to disembark for my stop is around the corner.