Happy 100th Nelson Mandela: What I know now.

I’ve finished watching the last of the documentaries on celebrating ‘Nelson Mandela, One Hundred‘; I thought I knew all I needed to know about the man, about the country, about Apartheid, the tortures and the atrocities, but I was wrong.

This time around I realise just how close he was to all the saints we know and that probably (although not in my life time), he’ll be made a saint. I also learnt that my other idol, Maya Angelou died not too long after Mandela. I wondered if when she wrote the poem His Day is Done that some six months later, it would also apply somewhat, to herself.

His benevolence, tolerance and altruism reminded me that I still need to be more forgiving, to be a much better listener and more importantly, that it’s ok to have high standards, just as long as I realise to temper those standards when applying to people and situations.

What Mandela’s freedom did for me could almost be equated with being cleansed by the blood of Christ. If not for Mandela’s victory election, as a black person I would not have been able to live in South Africa and had all those incredible experiences. I am so grateful Nelson. Happy 100th and you should know, that we will never forget you.


The Spear has fallen

There is nothing the apartheid government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known ~ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

I was talking to my husband this morning when I saw the banner running under the program on the TV.  It said Winnie Mandela had passed away. This strong, defiant beautiful incredible activist is no longer with us. Her struggle had to be the toughest, fighting the oppressive apartheid system, immured in a jail cell and separated for years from her dearly beloved, the great Madiba – Nelson Mandela.

My slight contact with the Mother of the Nation was during the time I lived in Johannesburg in 1994. My husband and I owned a boutique in the Sandton area of Jo’berg and at some point Mrs Mandela visited the shop. Unfortunately I was not there but my manager was present.  Another time when I almost was near is when we participated in a fashion show. The clothes from our boutique were used by the organisers to promote African wear and fashions. In fact, clothes were loaned from a number of shops.

Taking the clothes back stage to help with the models, I remember walking across the stage and someone calling out to me that Winnie is taking her place in the audience. I stopped to look. I could see in the distance, a woman wearing a long gown, her hair was a curly Afro and she was talking, smiling. When the lights went out and the show began, I took my seat in one of the front rows. It was a great show and I was pleased with the way our clothes were displayed and looked on the models. When the show had to come to an end, my manager went back stage to collect the clothes and I went to greet Mrs Mandela but when I got to where she sat, she had left.

Dear Winnie, you did what you came to do and made long-lasting achievements. You were truly a blessing to South Africans and will remain in their hearts forever. I offer my condolences to loved ones and know that your gentle soul now quietly rests.

Your Pastor – is it necessary for you to like him?

I was thinking of my Pastor the other day; thinking of how I found it difficult to reconcile the inconsistency of his spreading the Gospel and what I consider to be his disdain for his flock.  When I’m in church, I look around the congregation at the faces to see if they see what I see, but it’s either they are oblivious or believe it’s just typical human behavior.

It bothered me, this. My mind churning, telling me that it’s wrong to judge and depersonalise, it goes against the reason I go to church in the first place, but there are strong factors getting in the way that counters that.

It all started when I found the problems of my son were becoming too much. With a husband/father, who was abroad, it wasn’t always easy when a problem arose. My husband and I would Skype each other, but that would be several times a week. He could not do more as he was busy. So a member of the church, and a friend suggested that I should see the Pastor, Pastor John.  I went to see him and told him that for some time, my son has been experiencing depression; a talented writer, a polite person and for reasons unbeknown to me, dropped out of his final year at University. My mind picked all over to see what I had done wrong.

Pastor John listened and watched, as I held my head trying to understand.  The Pastor talked of how he saw my son walking ‘up and down’ the high street, which suggested his behaviour was odd considering the ‘good family he came from’.  It was not something he expected. Then he recounted how he led his own son from an episode of apathy towards his studies, where he ended up getting a good degree.  I looked up at his face, only to be met with a smile which tried not to be smug. Great, I thought, for his son but failed to see how this helped me with mine. Then I said to him something which quickly popped into my head, how my mother would always tell me that God does not always give you everything. He holds back on some things just so that you don’t forget what he has done for you. When a problem presents itself, you have to find a way of dealing with it.  I wondered why this comment did not enter my head before.  I raised my head and looked at the pastor; the look he gave was one of astonishment. Didn’t he think my mother was capable of meaningful statements? Our time was brought to an end and the pastor prayed about all that had taken place, and for my son.

I left the office, forlorn and worse than when I went in. all of a sudden, my vulnerability was apparent. I felt as though there was a glitch in my family leaving me with no choice but to feel embarrassed.

It was time to flag this experience as I reminded myself that I had experienced something like this before but dismissed it. About a year ago, I attended a bible studies group; there were five of us, plus the pastor.  After the meeting, we raised a sensitive subject about the progress of the church. I say ‘sensitive’ because the Pastor took it personally when you criticized the church. I said how the church has always been humble, something  I was proud to be a part of, but a few things needed to be changed. The Pastor smiled briefly, and then asked what I meant by ‘humble’. I had to stop and do a quick inventory. Did I say something offensive? No I did not, I told myself.

The church was built seventy years ago; it has a small congregation made up of predominantly elderly people who seemed to be at a place in their lives where the mortgage has more or less being paid, where visits to the Doctor are frequent, they see their grandchildren and hopefully they get a holiday once per year. I should add that in the years they have attended, they go with their partners but in the last three years, quite a few have lost their partners to ill-health.  For the widows and widowers, single parent families, the church plays an important role. If you go to the church, say, on a Tuesday morning, you can see them enjoying their game of cards or dominoes, keenly waiting for the tea break along with the sandwiches.

I also say ‘humble’ because unlike many other church services which uses PowerPoint to support the sermon and has a resident band, this church struggles. The church assistant struggling with the projector to find the hymn the same time the congregation is about to sing or, the music (The Music!!) is meagrely supplied by a sole musician, a pianist, struggling to make up for every instrument that is not there!  The choir which struggles to sing in unison rather than four point harmony. Perhaps I’m asking for too much but the point is no one complains, the congregation is happy with this. So yes, ‘humble’ it is, but I feel that it could do with some changes.

He said he was confused with the word ‘humble’. As far as he was concerned it was progressing, and up to date. But I added that perhaps the reason why the church failed to attract new people, young people was that it was just too…serious. I realised that it was superficial for a church to have technology in order to present itself as professional, but the church had reached a position that it did not want to leave, sort of trapped in its comfort zone. The other members looked on, thinking I had said too much. Pastor John shook his head wearily and made a frown. He said he would think about it and that we’d have another meeting to discuss the matter. As I said, this was a year ago.

Leaving the Pastor to get ready for the evening session, another thing that came to mind. A few people talked of when he or they are outside the church, say shopping or on the local bus, he has tendency to ignore them. I’ve not experienced this but then I realise I would not because my husband is a lecturer and he respects this. As I head towards my car, I pause and inhale this new revelation. I should have realised. When he subtly drops the hint of wanting to visit us, I always say, ‘Yes! Come around. I’m home most evenings.’ But he never does as he wants to be invited, and I’m not formal like that. I get into the car, start the engine, allowing the engine to run as I marinate these new thoughts.

I like my church, despite its humbleness. I like the people; some of whom I have known since school or they have lived in the area for some time. So I’m not looking to leave even though some people will probably feel that is my best option. But I go to church for a good reason: to hear the Word, to hear God’s message. Something that will help me to cope with the new, up and coming week or some ongoing problem.  Sometimes I win the jackpot where the sermon delivered hits it right on the nail i.e. I hear my message or answer. But there are other times, I go and I leave, empty.

As I find parking space just outside the house, I learn that what has become problematic, is seeing a side of the Pastor that I feel, should not be there. I hate that I’m aware of it to the point that I fail to realise he has been ‘sent’ to do a job; and I hate the fact that it is likely to get in the way of receiving the good Word.

It would make life a lot easier if I liked and respected him. But still quoting my mother: people are people are people. They may not be perfect but they were meant to strive, be good and to auto-correct themselves as they progress. I guess there is still a lot for me to do.


Cut the guy some slack please – Julius Malema v Deborah Patta

I read the article A Firebrand Leader in the Making in today’s British Guardian.  Before reading the blog, one of the bloggers inserted the YouTube clip which features the South African presenter Deborah Patta interviewing Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth league. I normally complain about how blacks are treated in the British media but viewing this clip, I’ve not come across anything as patronizing and contemptuous as this.

The presenter says in her intro that he is seen as a ‘buffoon’ and that it should be put to the ‘test’.  Of course the whole point of the programme is for her to take the mick and to make him look a fool.  The interesting thing is he comes across as a gentleman and does not rise to the bait. 

Fine, he is not articulate (maybe English is not his first language!) and maybe he does not have a degree in Sociology so that he can give us a clear cut definition of class and where he thinks he belongs. But do we really expect him to get it 100% right!   The white working class (British) moved out in droves to this new land in hope to emulate the lifestyles of their ‘betters’ in the old country but having lived in South Africa myself I was surprised, no shocked, in how the WWC lived in their big houses and pools with scared and anxious domestic staff. And yet the WWC managed to occupy management positions without having any qualifications whatsoever! Yeah maybe I was a tad jealous as I know occupying such positions back in the UK would have been impossible without qualifications so if you guys were able to get away with that, I don’t think it’s fair that you should expect much more from Malema. 


A South African stew.


 What do you think of this story?  As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, that I used to live in South Africa and always thought it dangerous to argue with whites as they were not used to dealing with ‘uppity’ blacks and could retaliate in a way that would not happen in the UK or the States.  Friends of mine have been critical against the blacks who drank this ‘stew’ asking: are they that ‘docile’ that they should drink anything that looks suspicious?  My response was blacks in this part of the world have almost been close to what I would call being ‘sedated’ when it comes to their approach to white people. I remember at times when blacks were spoken to by a white person they would always lower their eyes and never look into the white person’s eyes direct. But this disgusting incident should tell us volumes that South Africa still has an incredible long way to go.

Comment on Nadine Gordimer’s Biography: No Cold Kitchen


Robert Suresh Roberts

I have read three quarters of the biography of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer titled No Cold Kitchen, and so far I find it an enjoyable read. I feel that Robert Suresh Roberts has a good writing style and yes, the book shifts from a documentary type to something of a tabloid, which I still think is OK. But I want to look at another possible reason why Gordimer may have objected to the book – something that was hinted at in an article on the topic I read in The Guardian (UK edition).

In the UK, there has been complaints from the Black (writing) community about an unprecedented number of black characters inhabiting today’s mainstream fiction best-seller lists, but few of them are created by black authors. So authors such as James Patterson, Maggie Gee, Alexander McCall Smith etc have been ‘attacked’ and Black writers are determined that they should be allowed to get in on their own act! Writers such as Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer are exempt from this because their writings are considered as ‘political’ writing and anyone who is looking to support the ‘cause’ must always be praised and respected. It was only when there was a fuss about Gordimer’s ‘July’s People’ being removed from reading lists/curriculum that the thinking here was that if that is what the Africans wanted then who are we to object?

But here you have a writer who happens to be Black, who seeks to write about a prestigious writer who happens to be White! My friends and I are thinking – here you have this incredible ironic situation of a White author who has made a reputation writing about Black people but totally reject or object to being written about by a Black author. If this is her objection then it is pure hypocrisy. As Suresh outlines in the final paragraph of My Problem is with you states quite clearly his relationship with Gordimer:-

“….worthwhile biography seeks intimacy without loyalty, proximity laced with dissent.”

One is tempted to think that Gordimer expected/wanted a biog that would make her personality as good and wholesome as her dedication to showing the truth about the ramifications of Apartheid in South Africa. Meeting a South African academic who had met Gordimer told me – Gordimer is a “good person but not a nice person”.  But are we looking for someone with all her incredible experiences to be totally pristine and gleaming and no warts??  That would be unrealistic. In the same way that given all what Winnie Mandela went through, she is certainly not faultless and neither is she looking for any approval or to be liked!  Gordimer should not be fearful or hypocritical and realize she has earned the right to be who she is. From the impressions I get from people I’ve spoken to in SA, she is truly respected.

Maybe the chip on my shoulder is not that big!


I sometimes think that maybe I am becoming more tolerant in my old age.  You know, take things with a pinch and accept that not every fight has to be a fight. But once upon a time, as a young teenager growing up in the London area, if a white person said something derogatory, or if I felt there was any hint of racism in their responses, or even felt the way they looked at me suggested racism, then I was on their case.  If I couldn’t handle it myself, then there were the big brothers, who held a respectable record of encounters with the law, who could always be relied to do something if there was a problem.  But thank God, it’s not like that anymore. 

Although each time I go to South Africa, I know I can be guaranteed of running into someone who will make it clear that I deserve to be spoken to in a dismissive and curt manner simply because of my colour.  Something like that happened two days after we were robbed.  Eddy and I had already been to the Embassy to complete the forms to cancel our passport, and were told that our travel certificates would be ready in a few days time.  The next thing we had to do was go to South African Airlines to report our stolen tickets and confirm our flights back home.  In the area where we were staying, we could not find a local travel agent to help us, especially with the complications of being robbed and for new tickets to be issued, so we decided to go Tambo International. 

We arrived at the airport, parked our car and made our way to the counter.  It was early in the afternoon when we got there, and I was struck at how desolate the place was considering it was an airport. We found the counter and there were five people waiting in the queue but it didn’t take long before we were attended to.  We explained our situation to the assistant and showed him the police report.  He read it quickly and sympathized at the same time.  He tapped something out on his keyboard, took down the information as it appeared on the computer, and then made a call.  Within the next minute or so, we were handed our ticket replacements in their gleaming new covers.   

Making our way back to the car park, this new, bizarre experience of being robbed forced us to look over our shoulders ever so often.  As we got closer to our car, it suddenly occurred to us that we had to pay for our parking ticket before we could leave.  So we went back to the hall to look for a pay machine and we located one outside the entrance door.  My husband removed lots of coins from his pocket and started sifting through, looking for Rand coins.  I helped him, taking some of the coins and picking out as many Rands as I could find.  Unbeknown to us, a man, elderly, white, and wearing glasses came up from behind.            

‘What’s the problem?’ He said with some measure of impatience.            

‘No problem’, I replied. ‘We’re looking for some coins to make up ten Rand. 

‘Don’t you have ten Rand?’ 

I glared at him making sure my eyelids were fully stretched back.  ‘It’s not that we don’t have ten Rand, we are just trying to get the right amount.’ I continued to glare at him. He backed away and quietly allowed us to gather the right amount to put into the machine.  ‘There! Done!’  I said to him as we walked away with my husband smiling.  And we left without saying another word about it.   Thinking about it, yes, racism was a regular feature in my life but with education and exposure, I realised that there were different ways to deal with things and that violence was and never is an option.  Especially when I realised that I had friends of different nationalities to help, whenever I found myself in difficulty.  But I also realise that it is not the same for everyone. 

When I am in South Africa and the topic of racism comes up, especially if I am in the company of white people, it seems as if it is an enigma to them as to why crime has gotten to the level it has?  Or wonder if there is a particular point in time when the anger will go away?  The uncivil comment about the ‘Ten Rand’ may have been said because the man was racist.  Whatever it was, I can dismiss it.  But imagine if I were to be living in Jo’burg and having to experience these subtle put downs, or insults all the time, why wouldn’t I be angry? And how am I to express my anger if I cannot articulate what I need to say?  

It even makes for uncomfortable thinking that I thought I was experiencing racism in England, when it was nothing compared to what I’ve seen and heard of Black people’s experiences in South Africa.   Yes, we were robbed by black people and there is no way I can make any excuses. Besides the humiliation of being robbed, I also feel embarrassed for the robbers and South Africa and although, luckily, no one was hurt I realised if these guys wanted to kill, they could have done it without any hesitation.   If there is one thing I will always remember about this incident, was the cold anger in their lifeless eyes and wondering (and still wondering) what sort of lives do they lead. 

The experience forces me to assess myself and to assess them: what I am able to do and have been able to accomplish and they, who may be destined to live a life of crime and poverty without ever being able to find out their true purpose. What I see, so far, they are dictated by anger and rage but I believe that somewhere deep, down, inside of them they perhaps still hope to receive the acceptance and respect they so much want from their former oppressors.

One sunny day in Jo’burg…

Two Saturdays ago my husband and I left for Jo’burg. Why were we going there? In the particular country where we live in Africa, my husband, Eddy, had been to a few Doctors to assess the infection in his inner ear. He was not satisfied with the diagnosis. Not consistent, he said. So we decided to head to South Africa and see what the Doctors there had to say. Besides being confident that everything would be sorted, I looked forward in visiting one of my favourite places.
We arrived at Tambo International by 6:15am and were out of the airport with our luggage by 6:35am. Although the weather was fresh and warm, there was a strong indication it was going to be a hot day. A friend, Geoff, collected us, and we drove along the undulated roads as he skilfully took on the slightly sharp bends. I commented on the number of buildings that had emerged in the time we had been away. The conversation eventually moved into silence as Eddy and I enjoyed the smooth drive and the lush landscape.

It was a good thirty minutes before we arrived at Geoff’s house. He removed from his pocket a small remote, pressing a button for the electric gate which took its time to open, then pressed a second button on the same remote to open the garage. We drove in, resurrecting the chatter as we sought to catch up with all what each other had been doing, when I slid the car door open and felt a sudden stinging pain to my left cheek. A man stared down at me with glaring eyes. He was saying something to me but I could not work out what it was. I thought he was a beggar asking for money or he was lost and needed directions. He moved to the front of the car and started shouting at Eddy. Again, his words were lost on me. Not that he was speaking in another language, it was a case of not been able to make any sense. It was only when my eyes slowly travelled down his frame that I saw clutched in his hand a gun. I looked in front of me to Geoff. Through the window, I could see the arms of the attacker pointing a gun in the air, and then in one quick movement he cocked it. Geoff raised his hands up. The attacker lowered his arm to point the gun to Geoff’s head. He asked him to hand over his mobile and wallet. Geoff did what he was told.

We all remained calm as we watched helplessly our money, mobiles, handbag and suitcases being taken away. One of them came round to where I was in the back seat and shouted ‘Jewellery!’ I quickly removed my rings but they were not interested in my gold bangle or the gold watch. We all sat and within our minds prayed that they would leave without harming us. They snatched the bunch of house keys and wrestled with the remote. Once it was removed, they wrenched the car keys from the ignition and then pressed the button for the gate and once it had reached half way, they pressed it again for it to stop. The three men scurried out from the garden, got into a car with no number plates where there was another man at the wheel, then left. I sat in the car and felt my insides churning as if on slow speed of a Kenwood mixer. Eddy and Geoff got out quickly to see if anything had been dropped and to see if they could catch a glimpse of the car. Geoff took the bicycle that belonged to the gardener and headed to the police station. The time was 7:20am.

It was now slightly warmer and the street had not woken with the exception of domestic staff making their way to work. The neighbour, who lived opposite said good morning, then asked if everything was all right. We told him what had happened. He was shocked and there was fear in his eyes.
If they can do that to you guys, what does that mean for us whites?!’ He then said if they were anything he could do, we shouldn’t hesitate. Another neighbour drove passed, and I could see him looking on with curiosity through his rear window. He halted, then did a three point turn and drove to where we were standing. He asked the same question and we told what happened.
‘What?! Here?! When? Just now??’ He paused and looked about himself stunned. ‘My domestic has just come on duty, let me find out if she knows anything.’ He didn’t waste a second, then left.

We stood in the space where the half opened gate was supposed to cover. Eddy paced up and down with his hands buried deep in his pocket. I looked at him, wanting to say something but I was speechless. There was a part of my cheek that was raised and also felt quite sore. It was 7:50am when Geoff returned. He came with another vehicle and we went to the nearest police station to give a report. This took about forty five minutes and we were given affidavits.
For most of time, we shuffled from one place to the next, trying to sort our passports. The Embassy said they would move quickly to help and would be in touch. We then went to the airline company we flew with, to show them our affidavits and to confirm our seats. I did not feel safe staying at the house, so we went to Garden Court Hotel in Sandton and spent a few nights.

South Africa is a fantastic place, as we have done a number of ‘driving holidays’ from Jo’burg to Durban, or Jo’burg to Cape Town, which we have thoroughly enjoyed. Despite what has happened, seeing work already being started in certain places of the city for the new Underground they want to build in time for 2010, makes me feel excited for the place. But the government has to acknowledge that there is a problem. Otherwise lovers of the country will not be interested in going back there again.