July 24, 2012 § 8 Comments
originally appeared in my Cape Times column on July 16 2012
SIX YEARS ago, I packed my bags in the Mother City and headed for the City of Gold. I left Cape Town behind despite its beauty, my many friends and the many beautiful women who adorn the city. About the many beautiful women allow me an aside. I went to Cannes, France in my first year in Joburg. While I was there, many people who had visited Cape Town would say: “That place has some of the most beautiful women in the world.”
In Cape Town, I had the most diverse group of friends. In fact – at the risk of sounding like that guy – some of my best friends were white. I’d probably say 60 percent were white; the rest were a mixture of black and coloured.
After I’d moved to Joburg, a white friend said to me: “Most of your pictures on Facebook were with white people when you were in Cape Town. Now that you are in Johannesburg they are just of black people.” We laughed, but it was true. I will never forget looking at a picture of five of my friends one day. All of them had left Cape Town for Joburg that year.
All those in the picture were black. Hardly any of my white friends had left Cape Town for Jozi. In fact, the thought of moving to Joburg was completely revolting to them. This got me thinking – why? Well, my black friends felt that they could not progress in their careers in Cape Town. There was a feeling that they were not taken seriously and were just there to make up numbers.
The prospect of making it big in Cape Town was just never there and the possibility was never shown to them. And the money was not attractive, either.
The white kids didn’t feel there was no place for them to make it in Cape Town, so they were comfortable in their careers and did not feel the need or pressure to move.
Once my friends had moved to the City of Gold, they had bigger responsibilities and were well supported by the business owners who hired them. They didn’t feel as if they had been hired as a favour; rather, they were expected to be good at their jobs. And they were.
It was the last place I worked at in Cape Town where I really felt valued. In fact, I had my most creative years in advertising when I worked there.
Cape Town needs to rethink how to retain black talent. Everyone wants to feel that they are important to the progress of an organisation. The more Cape Town denies that there is an issue with retaining black talent, the tougher it will be for the city to retain and attract black talent.
Some organisations like to use the age-old excuse that black talent wants a lot of money. It’s not just black folk that want to be well paid. Everybody wants that.Black people already know that working in Cape Town will be tough for them, so they’d rather be paid well while working in a hostile environment.
It’s only logical. No one goes to work in Dubai to be paid the same as they would be here. The weather is terrible and you have different rights than the local people. It makes sense to be paid well for the sacrifice you are making to be there. Black people do want to work in Cape Town, but the environment isn’t friendly to them. They would rather work where they are welcome; they don’t have to beg to work in Cape Town.
If Cape Town doesn’t change, soon, businesses in the city will have to pay more than Joburg for black talent because there will be a lack of supply.
August 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Opening Statement by at the special meeting of the Judicial Services Commision held in Cape Town, 20 August 2011.
Esteemed members of the Judicial Service Commission (Commission), I thank you for attending this special meeting on such short notice .I welcome you all.
In my capacity as Deputy Chief Justice, I have convened this special meeting at the written request of the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, Mr Jacob Zuma and in accordance with to the provisions of section 178(7) of the Constitution. That section provides that if the Chief Justice is unable to serve on the Commission, the Deputy Chief Justice acts as his or her alternate on the Commission.
In a letter to me dated 16 August 2011, the President informs that it is necessary to appoint a new Chief Justice and that in his view “Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will be a suitable candidate to assume the position of the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa”.
The letter records that section 174(3) of the Constitution requires that the President consult, amongst others, with the Commission on the appointment of the Chief Justice. Pursuant to that provision the President requests the Commission to let him have its views on the suitability of Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for appointment as Chief Justice.
I caused the letter from the President to be circulated to all members of the Commission. Responses of some members made it clear that there are differences of opinion on the procedure the Commission must follow when it is consulted by the President as required by section 174(3) of the Constitution.
Thus, this meeting has the singular purpose of determining the procedure to be followed by the JSC when its views are required by the President on the suitability of a nominee he or she intends to appoint as Chief Justice. Naturally, when the procedure is certain, the time, date and place where the nominee or nominees would submit to an interview have to be fixed.
Before I invite deliberation on this narrow purpose of the meeting, it is proper and necessary that I banish the elephant out of the room. That elephant is whether I am available to be a nominee or contender or contestant for the position of Chief Justice?
Our country and its people have been exposed to considerable media and public conversations on the nomination of the Chief Justice. Certain media reports have expressed preferences on who the President should nominate. Of course, that constitutional prerogative vests in the President.
Some organisations have gone further and mentioned me by name as a possible nominee. Others media reports and organisations have purported to nominate me or have said that they would do so if the Commission’s procedure were to permit them.
I thank those within our nation who have shown trust in me and thought that I could serve our country in that crucial position. Equally, I understand and respect the views of those who take a different view.
Let me make it clear that, much as I consider it an honour to be thought of as a potential nominee for the post of Chief Justice of this country, I have never solicited or accepted any nomination and I am not available to accept any nomination, whatever its source, now or after the deliberations of this Commission. Therefore I am neither a hopeful, nor a nominee or a contender, present or future, for the position of Chief Justice.
In some instances, public speculation nearly suggests that my very life depends on my being appointed Chief Justice. That is simply not so. As matters stand, it is a rare privilege to serve my country on its highest Court. This came after a long and rewarding career, over more than 30 years, as a candidate attorney, attorney, junior counsel, senior counsel, judge of the High Court and later of the Constitutional Court. I am further honoured to serve as Deputy Chief Justice. I am indeed prepared to serve on any other court below the Constitutional Court. I would hope that the usefulness of my contribution on the Court and to the democratic project to create an equal, cohesive and socially just society does not depend on the position I hold or the position I am given or indeed the position I manage to extract for myself. Every one of us can make a worthy contribution, whatever our position. We need not abandon good sense, the task at hand, or principle in order to get up the ladder of hierarchy or privilege.
If my reckoning is accurate, my term on the Court ends at the end of 2016. Provided that my will and energy to serve do not wilt, I will continue to serve where I am now, dutifully and in the best sense of a patriotic judge who seeks to make a contribution towards achieving a better life for all. To accomplish that, I need not be a Chief Justice.
Having cleared the overgrowth, I now invite debate on the issues at hand.
Cape Town, 20 August 2011
May 6, 2011 § 23 Comments
*originally appeared in the Cape Times in 2010
This is an age-old discussion that has gone on in the black community for some time now. Light-skinned people are automatically considered beautiful simply because they are lighter skinned speaks volumes about the insecurities that we have as a community. When I still lived in Cape Town I was surprised to find that these insecurities were deeply and even more profoundly present in the coloured (mixed race) community. In many respects, its manifestations were worse. If one was lighter, or, if one wishes, looked white, then they were held in higher esteem even within the same family. And this is well after the ending of apartheid too.
I found myself getting angry just hearing that as a coloured friend told me about these nuances within the community. He had been the darker child; his sister was lighter. She got better treatment at home when they were growing up. Often, comments would be made about his darkness, and they were never said in the positive light. He even told me about how most people in the coloured community would always reference their European ancestry, and never, ever touch on their African one. It as if they miraculously became coloured.
“Everybody we rolling. We rolling with some light skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands.” That’s a line from Kanye West’s Power, in his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Those who do not know who Kelly Rowlands is, she was the darker one in Destiny’s Child, Beyonce was the light skinned one. It has to be said that the line is kinda funny because well, there’s this perception in some sections of the black community that a light skinned black person is somehow more attractive than a darker skinned one. Sadly.
Maybe we should start saying, “beauty is in the skin of the lighter skinned.” Funny enough, while black people are trying to be lighter, white people are tanning to get a couple of shades darker. Of course, this must not be confused with white people wanting to be black. That would be the day. Unless of course they were hoping for a tender.
What does this say? Is this a legacy of the past? I guess when William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never buried. It’s not even past,” he knew what he meant. The past it seems is still light skinned, even amongst black folk. I got nothing against light-skinned folk. I mean, depending on the weather, I too become a couple of shades lighter.
Our communities still have a distorted view of what is beautiful. The views are still shackled to the past. One would think that with freedom, and better-educated youth, these views would have shifted to a more educated and wiser expression of beauty. But alas, even with the new generation, we still feed each other with insecure ignorance.
There is this horrible phrase I keep hearing, “Yellow Bone.” It is reference to a light-skinned black person. And 90% of the time, the expression is used to automatically exclaim that the “Yellow boned” black person is somewhat extremely attractive by the virtue of their yellow-boness.
I think we have gone past the era of blaming the past for the way we view ourselves. It is time we learned how to accept different kinds of beauty in our different communities. Beauty is not yet free it seems. Black is beautiful. And so is white. I would know, I’ve dated across the colour lines. And across shades of blackness.
There is a problem with viewing light skin as being the pinnacle of black beauty. Holding those kinds of views says a lot about the black and coloured people who think light skin is superior. It’s an inferiority complex they are unaware they have.
The one thing that must be learnt is that none is superior to another. Light and dark are equally beautiful. Some day perhaps, we will see the end of the terms, “Yellow Bone.” And accept beauty for beauty and nothing else. Black is beautiful, no matter what shade of black.
November 23, 2009 § 4 Comments
I don’t keep my skeletons in a closet, I keep them in a suitcase. It’s much easier to flee with a suitcase in hand when the authorities come. This way you can run away with your evidence. This is why I prefer suitcases.
When I lived in Cape Town, a friend of mine used to keep his condoms in his suitcase because he was too embarrassed to keep them anywhere near where his elderly cleaning lady would see them. From what he told me I gathered that she was too old to be the same age as his mother, but too young to be his grandmother’s age. She was that age in African culture that doesn’t permit you to tell her what to do, even though she works for you. I digress, as usual. I blame this on my short attention spa…
Mine, the suitcase that is, has a far more interesting story than condom storage. It had been stolen or lost and I found it under the most unbelievable circumstances — worthy of an episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
The suitcase in question was my mother’s pride and joy. She was proud of a lot of things she had, but this suitcase was rarely used. It was used on special occasions, for special trips, much like the special cups, plates and cutlery that only ever saw the light of day when there were super-special visitors. When I left Mdantsane (a township just outside East London, famous for producing boxing champions, the likes of Welcome Ncitha, Bungu and others) many years ago to go study advertising in the bustling metropolis of Cape Town in the Western Cape, she gave it to me. There was no need to lecture me to look after it because I knew how she loved it.
Cut to two years later when I had to leave it in my church for safe keeping until I could find new accommodation.
One day, after many months I went back to the church to collect it from storage. It was not there. The rapture perhaps? I wondered. I was assured that no rapture had taken place. No one knew where it was. It had mysteriously vanished in the Bermuda Triangle of the church. I assumed it had either been stolen or had disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle of Christian generosity – with other people’s stuff. I figured someone saw a suitcase filled with clothes and decided to give it away. My heart sank. What would I tell my mother? I was not worried about the clothes. I was worried about the suitcase.
For the next year, whenever I went home my mother would ask me where it was. I would tell her it was in Cape Town, of course I never told her I didn’t know where in Cape Town. I think she knew something had happened to it.
It was a dark, stormy Saturday night. Seriously. It was a dark and stormy night the day before I found it under the most unbelievable circumstances, Steven Spielberg couldn’t come up with a story line like this. It was dark, because that tends to happen at night. Stormy though is not something that happens that often at night. The winds howled, branches snapped off trees, dogs whimpered in the unusual weather. Little did I know that when I woke up the next day I would find my long-lost suitcase.
As I was getting ready for church that Sunday morning I got an SMS informing myself along with all the members of my church that there would be no service that morning. There had been a tornado that had ripped people’s homes apart in Manenberg and Gugulethu. It was our duty as members of the church to help people move their belongings and give clothes to those who had lost everything. And so, I went to my wardrobe and put on my Sunday worst. I could foresee a lot of physical labour ahead. Off I went for my Christian duties.
To cut a long narrative short, after moving furniture and rubble from four affected homes I was summoned to a fifth house. It was in this house where I would find the long-lost suitcase. Perhaps I should narrate this part in the present tense.
I step into the typical township four-roomed RDP house with a sense of purpose, if not a little tired from the manual labour I had just endured. The first thing I see in this humble home, which had been humbled even further by nature’s unforgiving force, are three broken bricks on a dented wet stove. Where the roof used to be is a blue innocent sky, pleading not guilty. My eye sees something familiar in the bedroom. It is a bedspread. It looks remarkably like the one I used to have. What are the chances, I think to myself. But, right next to the bed is my mother’s suitcase. It is soaking from last night’s rain. I say nothing. I help move various items out of the house to an unscathed neighbour’s house. My mind starts working.
Dilemma. What do I do? These people have just lost their house, what do I do. I summon some courage and ask to speak to the owner of the house. Her face looks like it has aged in the hours after the tornado even though I’ve never seen her. As I speak to her she almost doesn’t even see me. All I see are the many questions on her numb face. Where am I going to sleep? Where will my children sleep? How am I going to repair my house? She turns to look at me with her heart-broken eyes. As I begin to speak to her I can feel my eyes well a little. How do I tell her I want the suitcase after she has just lost everything? I tell her that the duvet is mine and so are sheets and so is the brown suitcase. She looks at me, for the first time, she sees me. “My son got that suitcase and what’s in the suitcase,” she says.
I tell her calmly that it is my mother’s suitcase, I don’t mean anything bad by it. Her eyes accuse me of accusing her son of being a thief. Her son walks in. He is wearing my clothes. I don’t know how you got it and I don’t want to know, it is not something we can discuss now. I tell her she can keep everything all I want is the suitcase. She says fine, prove it’s yours. She is a tough woman even under these circumstances. I open a secret compartment within the case and extract photos of me and my family. She looks at me sheepishly and gives her son a look only a disapproving mother can give. I unpack whatever is in the suitcase and I take it with me. Guilt-ridden but at least I had my mother’s suitcase.
My mother still doesn’t know that it took a tornado for me to find her suitcase. I keep it in the closet now. It is the skeleton in my closet. I guess not any more now that it’s a blog.