South African languages under threat, English is dangerously dominant

September 1, 2015 § 1 Comment

*first published 2011-02-15 12:43

Our official languages are only official on paper. The Constitution. It is time we became honest about this. One is almost inclined to say that that part of the Constitution was written to make us feel good about ourselves and congratulate one another on how tolerant we are as a nation because we were able to accommodate all 11 official languages. It is just make up. It was done to make us look good. English is South Africa’s official language whether we like to admit it or not.  This is good and bad.

When white schools were opened to black kids in the early 90s, black parents sent their kids to white schools, not just for a superior education, but more importantly, so that they could learn to speak great English; so that they could get great jobs, not just in South Africa but anywhere else in the world. It went so far that some parents in the various townships barred their children from speaking their mother tongues but English at home.

It became the hip thing to do. Black parents would ask their young children to bring Coke with Choice Assorted to visitors so that they could speak English. In reality what they were doing was just showing off how well their little black child can speak the white man’s language.

Ironically, it was a British weekly magazine that wrote an article detailing the slow decline of South African languages just a few weeks ago. Yes, even Afrikaans, in case you were wondering.

The great, conservative and informative British publication, The Economist, published an article with the headline “South African languages, Tongues under threat” with the sub heading, “English is dangerously dominant.” Yes. The Economist said that English is dangerously dominant in South Africa. So dangerous in fact that it is eating away at Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele, Afrikaans and numerous other South African languages.

I am not unaware of the irony of writing this in English. This is obviously a clear demonstration of the powers that we have given the language in this country. I must confess, I am far more proficient in English than I am in my own language, whether it be reading or writing. I have not read a single Xhosa novel in my life, yet I have read so many English novels I have lost count.

The colonisers may have left, but they certainly colonised our tongues. At least back when the colonisers had guns, we resisted them. We fought. People died. This time we participate in the colonisation of the tongue. We encourage it.

I was fortunate enough to be in a group of 20 people invited to share our views on the African continent with Thabo Mbeki. One of the people there whispered to me and said, “The colonisers haven’t left, they just changed complexion.” That cut me deep. It’s true.

There is painful truth behind those words. We laugh at those who can’t pronounce English words properly.

What are we to do to prevent a spectacular demise of our languages? If we are not careful, our languages are going to end up like Latin, only studied by people who enjoy languages. They will become extinct. This undervaluing of our languages needs to end. It demeans us as a people and robs the world of rich culture. With our languages gone, the understanding of our cultures will also go.

I am not saying English must end. We must speak it. It is the economic language of the world. To call for it to be abolished would be foolish. It ought to be compulsory for every single child to learn English first language and another South African language, first language.

Is it too late though to save our languages? Many are not learning South African languages in schools. We have come to believe that there is no financial value in learning our languages, consequently, the incentive to push them in our schools and universities diminishes with each passing year.

Even if black parents’ kids go to English language instruction schools, they must only speak a South African language to them at home. Yet the parents have a dilemma, make sure that their children are not left behind, they assume that they need to speak English to their kids at home too.

We should be less inclined to applaud someone who only speaks English fluently but doesn’t speak an African language with equal eloquence. There should be no pride in only being able to speak English well while you can’t speak your mother tongue well. I have seen some people speak with pride almost when they say they are not very proficient in their mother tongues. Shameful.

We need to be proud of our languages. It is the only way we will be able to preserve them. Not only should we preserve them, they ought to thrive. Peoples from other nations should want to speak them too. How about we start trying to export them too?

Let the French, the Germans, the Chinese want to learn to speak Xhosa or Zulu. How we do that I don’t know. Someone else must come up with the how. Ndiqhibile, ndiyekeni ndihlale phantsi.

Obamafication of Maimane won’t earn DA the black vote

May 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

*originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian: 01 May 2014

Unfortunately many see Mmusi Maimane as a puppet; there are people behind his rise, and those people are not black.

South Africa still lives with its past. It is ever present and confronts us in every way. We are unable to shake it even when we desperately want to and we are still going to vote along racial lines.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been trying to destroy this voting pattern by putting black faces at the forefront of its election campaigns. One of its tactics has been to portray its premier candidate for Gauteng Mmusi Maimane as a Barack Obama-type figure.

There is a very clear, calculated reason for this: to attract young, black, middle class voters and the born-frees all the parties have been trying to secure. Unfortunately, only 33.6% of born-frees are registered to vote – compared to 60% of those in their 20s and 90% of people older than 30. This means one million born-frees are not interested and have not at all been inspired, even by the Obamafication of Maimane.

Of course it is a huge problem for all political parties, not just the DA, which has banked on them because, as their logic went, since the born-frees have no experience of the struggle, they won’t feel compelled to vote for the ANC. It seems they were wrong.

The born-frees don’t feel compelled to vote for anyone. The excitement deficit our leaders have generated is demonstrated by the lack of these young ones’ interest in voting.

US President Obama’s strongest supporters in 2008 were first-time voters, and this was the same strategy the DA attempted. The difference for the country’s Democrats then was that Obama actually generated excitement because of who he was and his story. People don’t know Maimane. He came out of nowhere for them. He is manufactured in their eyes. Obama introduced himself in 2004 to the American public and ran for president for two years so that by the time elections came, they knew who he was and what he stood for.

DA party leader Helen Zille knows that black South Africans are suspicious of the DA, not necessarily because they believe she is racist and will bring back apartheid, but they just don’t feel they would be a priority under DA rule.

The DA has done a remarkable job in making Maimane seem like he is, in fact, the leader of the party. He is on almost every DA poster one sees in Gauteng, for example, and there are a few posters peppered with Zille just to remind you she is still in charge. Even though she says the party is not about racialising politics in South Africa, the DA is practicing racial politics. The thinking is that Maimane is black and will therefore appeal more to black voters than Zille will, so the party put him on TV and posters so that the voter can see the DA isn’t a white party.

Unfortunately, many people see Maimane as something of a puppet, that there are powers behind the operation that are not black. So they are suspicious about the agenda of the people behind him. His emergence has been far too sudden for people to trust him.

He is perhaps being groomed as the next party leader after Zille. It is becoming more clear: the DA needs a black leader in order to get an even greater share of the vote. But will the DA membership allow such a thing to happen?

What the DA has done a lot more successfully than the ANC, is to come across as deracialised by making some of its black leaders prominent. In the past, the ANC had many prominent white leaders who were right at the heart of the movement. Not only white, but coloured and Indian too. We don’t see that as much any more, which seems to indicate there is an emergence of racial polarisation in the ANC, which needs to be addressed urgently. The ANC was the most racially mixed party of any in South Africa for a long time. Yes, there are still many people of other races in the ANC, but they are not prominent and are kept as workhorses. The ANC needs to be very deliberate in getting these leaders some airtime.

In this election, too, we will see people vote along racial lines, despite all the work the DA has done. The party has the right idea but it was badly executed.

Cape Town’s Secret White Club

January 21, 2015 § 2 Comments

*this column originally appeared on Cape Times when I still wrote for the publication. The reaction to it online and the comments which followed were disturbing and amusing all at once.

A few months ago I wrote about Cape Town’s professional unfriendliness towards black people. I stated that most black people don’t want to work in Cape Town because they come up against the white ceiling that they cannot go through, which is why any self-respecting aspiring black professional will leave Cape Town for blacker pastures in Joburg.

For there lies opportunity for them. I left the Cape because of the visible ceiling.

I had an interesting conversation with a German friend of mine who has been in Cape Town for the past six months or so.

Before that, she spent four months in Joburg.

First, she gave me the biggest shock of my life when she said she preferred Joburg to Cape Town.

Almost choking on my drink, I turned to her and said: “What? Did you say you prefer Johannesburg to Cape Town but in actual fact you meant you prefer Cape Town to Johannesburg?”

It made no sense that she didn’t like Cape Town. The city is beautiful, and she’s German, she’s supposed to like Cape Town, like the many German tourists who fall in love with the city and never leave.

Even after she assured me that she meant that she would choose Joburg over Cape Town any day, I waited for her to tell me that she was joking.

She gave me a compelling argument. She said she found Cape Town racist.

She said white Capetonians looked at one another as if they were members of a secret club. The White People’s Club.

Strangers made racially biased remarks to her, assuming that she will agree with her simply because she is white. It is something she said she had never experienced anywhere before.

One of the examples she gave me was an experience she had last week while she was shopping at a supermarket.

There was a trainee at the till. The trainee was obviously slow. The trainee explained that he was still new and figuring things out.

But the man in front in the queue turned and looked at my friend and then said: “These people are so slow and stupid and lazy. This can’t be that hard.”

My friend said she got that a lot in Cape Town.

That they are all part of the club where white people can just say things about black people and expect everyone to agree.

If this is the case, then what is it about Capetonians that they think they can get away with that kind of behaviour?

Obviously this is not everyone. All my friend was saying was that if she encountered this kind of behaviour so regularly, it could only mean that a lot of the time people say these things without being aware that they are being racist.

Am I saying Capetonians are racist?

Not at all, but I am saying that Cape Town needs to engage in proper soul-searching before denouncing what my German friend noticed. Outsiders tend to see things in a different light because they are not emotionally invested in the country. I appreciated her perspective on the Mother City because it created a mind shift.

In Joburg, she said, she never felt that she was looked at as if she belonged to this exclusive white club. She finds Joburg more accepting and more patient in letting others grow.

And, oh, one more thing: she said Cape Town was like a fishing village.

“Small Talk” is very African: In Defence of Small Talk.

September 29, 2014 § 11 Comments


One of the things that confuses me about us modern Africans is our sudden hatred for small talk. The idea of small talk is really foreign, if not a Western one. It became fashionable to say that we hate small talk once we started hearing that there was such a thing. I don’t know when I first heard that there was such a thing even. What I am sure of is that it was not something I ever heard in the villages or the townships.

When in the villages, one always sees people talking simply for the enjoyment of engaging in conversation, not because there is some deep philosophical discussion taking place, it’s just people enjoying each other. Rarely would you two strangers walk past each other and simply exchange a ‘hello’ and carry on. They would exchange pleasantries and then carry on. In fact, the pleasantries would carry on even after they had said goodbye and are walking in opposite directions, they would talk to each other until their voices faded. This is the beauty that we are losing and will most certainly lose, probably in our life times.
We no longer enjoy each other simply for the fact that someone is a human being. There must be purpose for talking to someone these, which is most unfortunate. I suppose there was a purpose even back then, but it was simply to enjoy someone else’s voice and what it has to share. It was about recognizing the other person’s humanity – ubuntu bakhe.

As Steve Biko put it, “Westerners have on so many occasions been surprised at the capacity we have for talking to one another – not for the sake of arriving at a particular conclusion but merely to enjoy communication for its own sake.” And he went on to say that, “No one felt unnecessarily an intruder into someone else’s business.”

Which reminds me of something strange when I went to a boarding school when I was 10. A boy came up to me and asked to be my friend. I was surprised and taken aback because I had assumed that we were since we hung out together with other boys anyway. I asked him why he would even ask that. I think my question embarrassed him, but I was simply confused by the question. I had never heard of it ever being asked. People who hung around together were friends. Maybe I thought that way because I was one of a few boys who had actually joined the school who came from a village. I was friends with everyone I grew up, including the boys I fought with. Everyone else was from some town or township.

I am sometimes accused of engaging in small talk and lack an ability to wean myself from people in a social setting. Although to be honest, I get away from some conversations as fast as I can because that is what our society has become and I too am contributing to this.

In fact, in Xhosa, the language that I speak, there is no word for small talk that I can think of. I suppose what would call small talk one could call “ukuncokola”. It means much more than just chatting, it’s a conversation and enjoying what each is communicating to the other.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the reason black people Tweet more frequently than white people (some study says this, even in the US it’s the case), it is because of our need and desire to just communicate and chat for the simple act of having a conversation. It is something we cannot shake off and I hope we never do.

Perhaps we call it small talk now because we have lost the art of ukuncokola. Or we are just too busy hurrying off to place and people and things we will forget anyway.

Thabo Mbeki’s address at Walter Sisulu’s Funeral

August 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Our country, and nature herself, have been in mourning since that fateful day, the 5th of May, when Walter Sisulu ceased to breathe.

While he lived, there were many in our country who knew nothing about him, except perhaps what they had been told or not told by those who had been his jailers.

While he lived, there were many who did not understand the unwavering humanism of the cause to which he dedicated his whole life, who were blind to what he did to ensure that his movement and his people remained forever loyal to their humanist calling.

When these came to know that there had been such a gentle giant in their midst, hidden from them as though he did not exist, they asked themselves the question – why did we not know!

But there were many others who knew of the place he occupied among the great galaxy of leaders of our people who had given their all, to ensure that all our people and all Africa were liberated from oppression, from poverty and underdevelopment and the intolerable pain of contempt and humiliation.

These knew that Walter Sisulu belonged among those through the generations, who are the best representatives of the unheralded nobility of the masses of our people, the representatives who decided that their lives were worth nothing, unless they dedicated those lives to the service of all our people.

As they embarked on the long march at the head of the combat columns of liberators, having conquered the fear of what might happen to them at the hands of the oppressors of their people, ready to pay any price for the recovery of the dignity of the wretched of the earth, of them it could be said, as the poet did:

“Asinithenganga ngazo izicengo;
Asinithenganga ngayo imibengo;
Bekungenganzuzo zimakhwezi-khwezi,
Bekungenganzuzo zingangeenkwenkwezi.”

It was not our persuasion that turned you into patriots. No material offerings induced you to choose to serve the people. It was not for dazzling wealth that you chose to sacrifice your lives for the people, nor for riches as fabulous as the stars without number.

Were these heroes and heroines to perish as they fought for our emancipation, we would sing songs of praise and say:

“Kwaf’ amakhalipha, amafa-nankosi,
Agazi lithetha kwiNkosi yeeNkosi.
Ukufa kwawo kunomvuzo nomvuka.
Ndinga ndingema nawo ngomhla wovuko,
Ndingqambe njengomnye osebenzileyo,
Ndikhanye njengomso oqaqambileyo.”

We would say the braves, who would perish rather than surrender, have died. We would say their sacrifice constitutes a command even to the King of Kings. Their death gives birth to a new life and a new awakening.

Oh, that I may be counted among them on the day of their resurrection, dancing the victory dance side-by-side with them, sparkling as bright as the new dawn!

Our country, and nature herself, have been in mourning since that fateful day, the 5th of May, when Walter Sisulu ceased to breathe.

We mourned because Walter Sisulu occupied the first rank of those about whom the poet Krune Mqhayi spoke, as though he foresaw what we would have to say when Walter Sisulu died.

The poet sang his song of praise as though to give us the words we would otherwise never find, when the moment came for us to talk about Walter Sisulu, a patriot who could never be bought or corrupted or forced by fear or fashion or love of material things, to auction his soul.

I speak for our government and people when I convey our collective gratitude to the inestimable numbers at home and abroad that stood up to pay tribute to a great son of our people, Walter Sisulu, and to his immediate neighbours in his mature age, who accepted Walter and Albertina Sisulu as their own.

I thank you that you have come from far and wide to join our leader and mother, Albertina Sisulu, and all her family, as we lay the mortal remains of Walter Sisulu to rest, and for the flood of messages of comfort and condolence.

We are honoured and moved that so many leaders of the peoples of Africa, and the esteemed representatives of the governments and popular movements of our common world, have chosen to be with us at this moment, to say to MaSisulu and to our nation:

“Thuthuzelekani ngoko, zinkedama!
Ngokwenjenje kwethu sithi, yakhekani.
Lithatheni eli qhalo labadala,
Kuba bathi: ‘Akuhlanga lungehlanga!'”

Therefore be comforted, you who are in grief. We have come among you to ask you to respond to calamity with the strength of the courageous. Hear the advice of the ancestors – that what has happened is what had to be.

Since the poets have permitted that we speak as they have spoken, I will tell of the truths that the poets told.

“Ewe, le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto.
Thina, nto zaziyo, asothukanga nto;
Sibona kamhlophe sithi bekumelwe;
Sitheth’ engqondweni sithi kufanelwe;
Xa bekungenjalo bekungayi kulunga.”

Therefore, and boldly, we say:

“Death be not proud, thy hand gave not this blow…
The executioner of wrath thou art,
But to destroy the just is not thy part…

Glory not thou thy self in these hot tears
Which our face…wears:

The mourning livery given by Grace, not thee,
Which wills our souls in these streams washed should be,
And on our hearts, (his) memories best tomb,
In this (his) Epitaph doth write thy doom…”

Death be not proud!

We challenge death’s pride because we know that even as it visits its wrath on all who live, it can never destroy a human being as just as Walter Sisulu was just.

We challenge death’s vengeful pride because we know that whatever it might do, it can never remove from our hearts the memories of Walter Sisulu, which, deeply entombed in these living hearts, are his epitaph, that shall pass on from generation to generation, alive, living, immortal.

We stand up to tell death that our black mourning clothes are not a tribute to its vengeance, but a signal of salute to him who was our conscience of courage, as we struggled to extricate ourselves from a long night of despair.

We challenge death’s certainty that it laid low such an African colossus, because:

We, who have the gift of knowledge, know that the mortal frame of Walter Sisulu has departed our midst, because had it not, it would not have been faithful to the natural order of things.

We, who have the gift of knowledge, were not surprised when he left the land of the living, because we knew that our world would have been troubled, if a human being as human as Walter Sisulu was human, had been condemned to live on, a mere shadow of he that had lived among us for many decades, everyday breathing into all of us the liberating spirit of freedom.

Our thinking brains have etched on our human minds the truth that what is, including death, is what is, is what has to be, and what could not but come to be.

All mortal life that is without end turns into a curse.

Se sa feleng seya tlhola!

Sibona kamhlophe sithi bekumelwe. Xa bekungenjalo bekungayi kulunga.

Le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto!

Death be not proud! To destroy the just is not within your power!

The African colossus that lies in front of us might have fallen, but he has not died.

The flowers of the desert wither and pass beyond the vision of the human eye. And yet they live, a defining part of the uninterrupted sands of the Sahara and the Kgalagadi.

Like these living plants that clothe the African earth and her deserts when the time comes, Walter Sisulu’s life had meaning not because he lived, but because his life gave new life to the millions who are proud to call themselves African.

Even when he has passed beyond the vision of the human eye, Walter Sisulu will continue to do what he did while he lived.

He will continue, still, to breathe into all of us the liberating spirit of freedom, and give us the human courage to remain steadfast in defence of our humanity, despite the insistence of a daily world of seemingly incontrovertible truths, that instruct us that we are not quite human, being destined to beg and to bow at another’s feet, in abject and imposed humility.

While he lived, Walter Sisulu was a proud African who refused ever to beg, because his very being told him that the beggar and the benefactor would both be demeaned by the exchange. In his death, he remains an African.

While he lived, Walter Sisulu carried on his shoulders, his mind and his soul, the burdens of the poor, the oppressed and the despised of the world, forever haunted by the cries of angry despair of these teeming, toiling masses.

His living memory and the material constructions our country will build in his honour, will, for all time, tell the people he loved, the South Africans, the Africans of Africa and the African provinces elsewhere, that were carved by slavery, and the citizens of the world, that all who would rule and exercise power, must open their ears, to hear the anguished cries of the lowly folk of our world.

Though he is dead, his voice will continue to speak for the ordinary people who reside in the common global neighbourhood. His voice will continue to speak of the seeds of life that lie beneath the sands of the deserts of human poverty, to tell those who have nothing, that in time, their lives will be characterised by much, much more than a creeping accumulation of small and periodic blessings.

He will continue to talk to those who occupy the tiny spaces that provide the material circumstances for decent human existence, that are scattered in a thin belt across the face of our common globe, about the fate of those who live in the marshlands of poverty that everywhere surround the islands of prosperity.

Yesterday, our people walked bending low and low because they bore the heavy yoke of tyranny. Today they walk the land of their birth with a joyful spring in their step, as free as the birds that take to the infinite highways of the air. Today, we talk of freedom, as though yesterday never was.

Yesterday, there was fear and foreboding throughout the land. Those who had oppressed and posed as the lords of all they survey, lived in dreadful fear and trembling, seemingly protected by the same barricades of barbed wire and killer dogs and guns, that imprisoned both them and those they sought to enslave.

Today that fear of what one might to do to the other, because of the varied pigmentation of our skins, has been banished from our land, never to return. Today, we speak of a common belonging, as though yesterday never was.

Yesterday, the poor of our country knew that they were but surplus people, condemned to wither away and perish in the dehumanising squalor of conscious neglect, imposed on them by a society that had decided that to thrive, it had to feed on the blood of those it had made powerless, like a vampire.

Today, the poor of our country know that what they did to liberate themselves from the icy grip of the tyrants has turned theirs into a country of hope, dedicated to the eradication of the poverty that has been the fate of our people for generations. Today, we speak of a better life for all, as though yesterday never was.

The dreaded memory of what yesterday was, is fleeing the conscious mind as the shadows flee the rays of the sun. It has taken to flight because of what Walter Sisulu and his comrades did. Because they embedded the humanist spirit into the very soul of their struggle, their movement and their people, they defined liberty as the right of all our people to happiness and human fulfilment, though they were denounced as terrorists.

For many decades Walter Sisulu taught the mass army of liberators to hate oppression, to hate racism, to oppose the social conditions that resulted in untold violence against other human beings, to overthrow the social order that, because of deliberate policy, precise and immaculate in its design and its execution, subjected the majority to pain, indignity and humiliation and death by starvation.

But he never said that we should hate other human beings, including those that oppressed, did great harm to others, and dehumanised millions, because of the colour of their skin and because of boundless and selfish greed.

He told us that were we ever to hate other human beings, we would sacrifice our own humanity, transforming ourselves into the cannibal beasts of the wild, that do not hesitate to feed on their own kind.

He instructed us that were we ever to hate other human beings, we would corrupt a movement for human liberation, and turn it into a predatory animal whose pillars of a blind ideology would be fear and hatred that would consume us, as well.

The new South Africa that has just begun its tenth year of existence has tried to live up to these teachings, to nurture and promote the interests of all our citizens as its offspring, with none cast out as orphans.

It is because of what it has striven to do, to honour the teachings and the example set by Walter Sisulu, that today we speak of our freedom, of a common belonging, of a better life for all, as though yesterday never was.

The memory of the past flees like the frightened shadows of the night, not because we want to forget the past. It flees because we are swept along by a high tide that carries us towards the light of the rising sun.

Voices of amazement and surprise have spoken of a miracle that many things they thought impossible, have been done. They have endowed the outcomes with the attributes of a miraculous wonder.

But we who have the gift of knowledge, the people of whom the poet Krune Mqhayi spoke, know that the miracle is not in the creation, but in the creators. It is not in the outcomes, but in the blessings unbound, that gave us a Walter Sisulu, whose quiet voice and quiet ways and gentle touch, gave our people the knowledge and conscience and conviction to do what is right, the impulse to create the outcomes that evoke pride and joy in all of us, and give us cause to dance in celebration of our humanity.

A great beauty of our land and continent has passed on, a mere twenty days before we gather to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the bearer of Africa’s and Walter Sisulu’s hopes during its time.

One that was as mighty as the baobab has fallen. But because he planted mighty seeds, he has risen again, and will rise again in the tomorrows and the new births that the African sun will bring. That sun will supply, as well, the living energy that will bring to their noble maturity, the little and tender and delicate plants that Walter Sisulu nurtured with such devotion and care, and love.

As we say farewell to this colossus that lies so peacefully in front of us, awaiting his stately transport to his final place of rest, we say to him that we know that:

“The grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee.”

“Elabafileyo alinakukuncoma,
Ukufa akunakukudumisa.”

Dearest father and honoured son of Africa, to speed your journey to your place of pride among the ancestors who guard our fortunes, we, the living, repeat after the poet, John Donne:

“But by all souls not by corruption choked
Let in high raised notes that power be invoked,
Calm the rough seas, by which (he) sails to rest,
From sorrows here, to a kingdom ever blest.
And teach this hymn…with joy, and sing,
The grave no conquest gets; Death hath no sting!”

Death hath no sting!

The living monuments to what Walter Sisulu and his comrades did, will say everything else that needs to be said.

Walter Sisulu deserves the greatest place in the sun

May 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

This column first appeared in the Cape Times in 2013. It would have been his birthday today and I felt that I needed to post this here.

Sies! How soon we forget. I fear we are forgetting a great hero. And because we want to forget, I fear that this column might not get as many readers as it should so we can remember the man.

I was angered last week when the 10th anniversary of his death went by as a mere whimper in the country he suffered for.

He did not only contribute himself to the Struggle, but he committed his whole family to it.

Walter Sisulu’s family needs to stop being humble. They are robbing a generation of young people of a great example.

On May 5, 2003, Walter Sisulu died. We are beneficiaries of his suffering.

We inherited a country he dreamed of for many years while he languished in prison, yet I fear his contribution is being forgotten; that he is being relegated to the sidelines.

He was humble, never one to boast or one to seek the limelight. It would be nice if we decided to be humble about his memory, and not brag about it, because that is what we think he would have wanted.

However, I don’t care what he would have wanted. He deserves the greatest place in the sun. He should not be hidden in the shadows when we live in the sun born of his suffering. We cannot afford to have him fade into a minor hero of the Struggle when we are what we are because of him.

Nelson Mandela never forgot him.

Who could forget the pain in his words as he spoke about his Struggle friend on May 8, 2003? “Xhamela (his clan name) is no more. May he live forever! His absence has carved a void. A part of me is gone.

“Our paths first intersected in 1941. During the past 62 years our lives have been intertwined.

“We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other’s bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom. From the moment when we first met, he has been my friend, my brother, my keeper, my comrade.”

There are few men, if any, who Mandela held in higher regard than Sisulu, yet we chose to forget him.

Mandela thinks he would not be the man he is today were it not for Sisulu.

In his book, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela credits many people for his political education, but singles out Sisulu.

If we think Mandela is a great man, how much greater is the man who made him?

Few liberation moments have had people with no ego, who, even with a chance to elevate themselves, would instead step aside and say there is a better man for the job – and groom and mentor that man.

In a PBS interview, Sisulu said: “I thought Nelson had even better qualities than me, and I wanted him to have even more… I was also encouraged by his ability to change, by his attitude to people.”

Let not Sisulu be forgotten.

We need to boast about who he was and what he did. If there are no statues erected in his honour, we ought to erect his memory and what he did forever in our hearts and pass it on to our children.

He lived his life in the shadows because he wanted others to take the shine.

He does not deserve to live in the shadows in death too. Let us not forget to credit the man who didn’t care who took the credit for our victory against a great evil.

May the spirit of Sisulu burn brighter with each passing year.

No one should possess you

March 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

*Originally appeared on my Mail & Guardian column

There is no need to be possessive. Nobody owns anybody. But unfortunately there are some relationships where I have witnessed this unnatural behaviour.

They remind me of a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, Django Unchained, where a slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio says of his slave woman, “Broomhilda is my property and I can choose to do with my property whatever I so desire.”  From what I gather, there is no difference between that slave owner and what some of our fellas do to women. It is as if they believe some strange things, such as:

  • If I love you, I own you.
  • If I love you, you must obey me.
  • If I love you, I am your master.
  • If I love you, I must control you.
  • If I love you, I must manipulate you.
  • If I love you, there must be double standards.

It is not just men who behave this way but it seems more prevalent among them than it does among women.

Some of these women are told whose numbers they may have on their phones and who they may keep as friends. They must always answer when he calls and the phone may not ring too many times before it is answered. When they dress up, they are questioned about whom they are trying to be sexy for and told to take the clothes off. This is the most unmanly display of affection.

Then the vicious cycle of being trapped in an intimate manipulative relationship begins. If someone else is remotely capable of making you happy, they need to be cut off from your life. Nothing makes abusers more miserable than seeing someone else make you feel content – even when that person is you. They want to be solely responsible for your feelings.

What inspired this column is a conversation I overheard on a flight to Durban over the weekend. A beautiful, young woman sat in the seat behind me. When I sat down, she was on a call I could not help but overhear. She was very calm but the person on the other end did not seem to be. Her tone and calm nature told a story: she needed to remain calm to prevent making him even angrier. At one point she said: “I can’t believe you just said that. You are so evil. How can you say you hope I get gang raped?” In my uneducated estimation, I think she heard it all before.

Even more surprising was that it seemed as though they were no longer a couple. She said: “No, I have not moved on. I don’t know what you are talking about.” Yet she answered the call and listened to his rant until he was done. His main goal was to ensure that wherever she was going, she would be miserable after his call. She was as calm as someone who was used to having vile things said to her.

Sadly, people mistake a drama-filled relationship for a passionate one, which only happens because they feel insecure. But love does not flourish where there is a battery of rules and restrictions. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, love is the chain whereby to lock your lover to yourself – not threats, manipulation or possessiveness. A controlling relationship ruins your confidence and belief in yourself. It should build your character, not destroy you.

Controlling people do not always come across as mean at first. They overwhelm you with kind words, gifts, and intensify the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship by talking about marriage and growing old together within the first few weeks of dating. And then, once in the relationship, no matter what happens, you are the one who faces the blame for everything that goes wrong. A controller never takes responsibility for their poor behaviour, they believe it is never their fault.

These people might not act with physical violence but the violence with which they strike the soul is almost irreparable. A lot of people who manage to escape long-term possessive relationships struggle to trust people afterwards, even those close to them.

What surprises me is that there are men who think that it is okay to be possessive and there are many women who accept this behaviour and live with it. It is crazy, really. Is it because these guys do not trust women? If you think you are not able to trust somebody, why be with them?

But I do not think it is a matter of not trusting them. It is a case of not trusting yourself to keep them. The behaviour confirms to the controlling person that there are people out there who are better and can take your lover away from you.

A fear of being alone has caused a lot of people to end up staying in bad relationships. Do not be afraid of being alone. Being single is not a curse.

The clingier you get, the looser your grip becomes on the one you are trying to hold on to.

A man who is insecure about a woman and constantly checks her whereabouts deserves to lose her. Nobody owns your life and therefore no one has the right to control it but you. Do not abdicate the responsibility you have towards your heart to someone who does not have one.

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