January 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you want to know me a little better, here is an interview conducted by Divas Inc, This is the link to the original interview. The original interview has pictures too. Click here to go that one instead or carry on reading here
Stimulating conversation, some introspection, a lot of good laughs, a sprinkling of some cringe worthy revelations and a bird’s eye view on the world – that’s what my morning with Khaya Dlanga yields. Patriarch of the ‘Towners’ and one of South Africa’s most outrageously opinionated columnists, Khaya is also one of the smartest and funniest people you’ll ever meet. Currently the Senior Communications Manager for Coca Cola South Africa, with an advertising resume that boasts of brands with a lot of clout the likes of Virgin, Nandos, Hyundai, 1LifeDirect, Musica and an array of awards to back up his reputation as one of the best in the industry, Khaya is an inspiration. But unlike Oprah or Bill Gates, he’s an ‘inspiration’ you also want to take home to meet the parents. As one of the Divas Inc team members so aptly put it – ‘A ‘sexy’ mind – that’s the magic of Khaya Dlanga’
Ok, 1st off, just to break the ice, can you give us a glimpse into who Khaya Dlanga is?
I honestly never know how to answer that question (laughs)
Why not? You’ve lived with yourself for quite a while now so if anyone should know, it’s you.
I don’t know what the question means. Do I talk about where I’m from? Do I talk about where I was born or how I was raised? I never know where to start.
Ok let’s talk about who Khaya is now and we can go back to Khaya growing up later on. Who is Khaya the man today?
Who am I? I think even now I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m still trying to answer that question. I do have an idea but I think it’s very difficult for me to try and put that into words and say ‘This is Khaya Dlanga’ today. I’m a very complex guy, I do know this. There are many facets to me that I just cannot verbalise.
Let’s start from the beginning then and talk about Khaya the young boy. What kind of child were you growing up?
I was a good child but I was also a bad child (laughs)…
So the complexity started when you were a kid I see?
Yeah (laughs) I did all the things expected of me then. For example, I grew up with my grandmother and she raised me till I was about 9 when she passed away, and because of her I didn’t swear growing up and up till today I cannot bring myself to doing it. But in the same breath, I started bunking school from as early as 9years old and I had been smoking weed by the time I was 10 and was getting high on petrol fumes… so I guess that kind of cancelled out the not swearing bit (laughs) But I must say overall I was a pretty decent child and my mom every now and then always says how proud she is of how I’ve turned out.
Yeah, I’m sure. Especially for a guy who was smoking up petrol fumes by10…
Yeah, absolutely (Laughs) I’ve turned out ok.
When did this love for words and expressing yourself through word start? What gave birth to the ‘opinionated Khaya’ we all know today?
My love for words really started when my mother started forcing me to read. I was probably around 11 at that time…
So you were reading when you were high…?
(Laughs) Oh no. I’d quit by then. I’d kicked my habit by the time I was 11. So I started reading and I hated it at first because my mother was ‘making’ me do it. I remember they were these short stories by Alan Paton that she made me read and I became an insatiable reader from then on. I spent so much time in the library when I was in school and after school I’d go to the town library just so I could read. And If I didn’t feel like going to the library I’d go to CNA where I’d read magazines and books. I’d just read. When I was in Standard 7 our teacher made us write an essay about a building that was collapsing – an implosion- and we were meant to describe it as it was happening – the smells, the sounds, the dust, everything – and I was just like ‘this is so cool’ . I wrote that and I did really really well at it and I remember thinking to myself ‘I think I really like this writing thing’. So then when I was in Standard 8 or 9, I can’t remember – It’s a long time ago (laughs)- my English teacher then – and this was a time when we had very few blacks in these schools , I think we were only 2 in my class- she was still new and she made us write an essay and at the end of the week she was giving us back our graded essays but she didn’t give me back mine so I was like ‘What the hell?’ I go to her desk and she’s like ‘Did you write this?’ and I say that I did and she’s like ‘Ok, what does this word mean?’ and I told her what it meant then she picked another word and another one and by the time we got to the 3rd word I was just like ‘Excuse me, but if you’d actually done your homework you’d know I constantly get the highest marks when it comes to creative writing in this class’…
Aah. So this was one of your very 1st ‘Excuse me, but in my ‘arrogant opinion’ moments…
(Laughs) In all seriousness – It was really not because I was being arrogant. It was because I was offended by what her actions implied. Her actions implied ‘How can you know all this and write so well when you’re black’ so I told her I had actually got the highest marks in our last exam. She asked me what that was and I told her to look at the marks and see for herself which she did and she gave me the same exact mark. That was actually pretty annoying – but yeah – that’s the story of me and my early writing years. It was a traumatic beginning (laughs)
So you love to read and you absolutely love to write but what were the dreams and aspirations for Khaya back then? What did you want to become?
You know – I think as a kid sometimes you say you want to do something but the question is ‘is that really what you want to do or are you just saying it because that’s what’s expected of you. I grew up in a very rural setting and I remember I used to say that I wanted to be a cop or I wanted to be a soldier because there were no other options for me. I didn’t know any other options besides those. And I‘ll never forget because there were a lot of people that would come from the rural areas to work in the mines in Joburg and that was almost set as a high aspiration for us where it was like ‘Be strong now then at least you can go and work in the mines’ so if you picked up a heavy object or something like that; that was what was always said. So where I grew up, one’s aspirations were always very very low because that’s all people knew. I think subconsciously I always thought I would end up working in the mines – even though I didn’t want to. They tried to sell it to me and make it into this glamorous thing but I knew it wasn’t. To be honest, I didn’t know what I really wanted to be and it was only in Standard 8 that I knew. I knew then I wanted to do advertising.
Ok, so you finish school and you have this huge dream of getting into advertising but this is set against a backdrop where you either became a cop, a soldier or a mine worker. How do you make it happen?
Wow. I came from a very challenged background. I was raised by a single mother – my father passed when I was about 4 or5 and my mom took me back to East London to live with her after my grandmother died. You know the typical 4 roomed house in the townships? We actually shared it with another family so one section was theirs and the other half was ours. Because of the situation, I had to sleep in the kitchen with my brother and my mom and my sister would be in the one bedroom. And I remember being very embarrassed because I went to a good school and I’d never invite my friends to my house because I didn’t want them to see where I stayed. We didn’t even have electricity so for me it was just like ‘I‘ll never embarrass myself like that’. And I remember when I was in school I always thought ‘ Am I actually ever going to be able to get out of this and do something with my life’ It was my dream to get into advertising but it seemed so unreachable because I knew my mother wouldn’t be able to afford it. She hadn’t worked for years and I remember for school trips I would never even tell her when there was one scheduled because I would rather get detention than have her feel insufficient because she couldn’t afford to pay for me go. I didn’t want to make her struggle any more than she already was.
After school, I wanted to go to AAA to study but I knew if I applied when everyone was applying around September they probably wouldn’t accept me because I wouldn’t have the money so I remember beginning of Feb the following year I had R500 to my name, I took a taxi from Mdantsane to Cape town, which was like R200 of the R500 – I didn’t know how I was going to live or where I was going to stay. I get there, ask where AAA is, I go there, still with my bag- which was small enough just in case things didn’t work out and I had to go back home – I get there, with my mom’s blessing because she had told me just find your way there and make it happen – I get to the receptionist and I ask her if they’re still accepting people and she tells me no and that they’d been turning down people every day who were coming in and taking chances. I ask to speak to someone and she calls the Registrar and I say ‘I sent my application last year and I never got a response – a rejection or acceptance. I’m not sure what happened’ which of course was a lie (laughs) but I had to find a way to get in and it worked. She was a bit taken aback so she gives me this thick book which you had to fill in when applying and I was familiar with it because I had helped my friend with his application. You probably needed like 2 weeks to fill this form in, she gives it to me and says ‘Come back Monday – 12pm is your deadline’ and I was just like ‘Oh My God, how am I going to do this.’ I literally slept for like 3hours that whole weekend and the rest of the time I was just writing and drawing and filling in everything. I get there Monday around 5 to 12 with my form and the lady is there and she’s having lunch and she gets my forms and she’s like ‘Come back in 5 minutes’ and I’m just thinking ‘There is no way she can go through all that in 5 minutes – she’s already decided she isn’t going to give me a chance’. I go back in 5 minutes and she hasn’t read it yet so she gives me another 5 minutes. I go back then and she’s going through my form now and she tells me to come back in 10minutes, then she says another 10 and another 10 after that…
Well, that was a good sign…
I didn’t even know that was a good sign then because I was just a whole bundle of nerves. Eventually I go back and she’s sitting with one of the Advertising lecturers now and she says ‘This is really really good. I must say I’m surprised. I didn’t expect this’. Then she asked how I was going to pay if I got in because I had indicated in the form that my mom wasn’t working. I knew my mom couldn’t afford it and I also knew they didn’t offer Bursaries so I’m like ‘Well, my mother has a property that she’s going to sell…’
Wow Khaya. Lie number 2 already …
(laughs) Well I had to sell myself and I was accepted. So what remained of the R500 I paid rent and I got some food and then got a job as a waiter. Things were going well for my first year but at the end of my second year I had to drop out. I will never forget this. I used to share my place with these guys and they had to leave and I wasn’t able to contribute to the rent on my own so the ‘digs’ had to be disbanded and I was just like’ What am I going to do now’. Because we were all ‘leaving’ the owner decided to renovate the flat and I didn’t have anywhere to go. So while it was being renovated, I took my suitcase and my clothes and left them at this church I used to go to – and every night I would go back to the flat because they didn’t lock up and I knew they wouldn’t come back at night, I’d clear all the rubble from the renovations and I’d sleep on the floor. I’d always sleep with all my clothes on in case someone came in and I had to run. I did this for over 2 weeks but one morning the guys came in early or I slept in too long, I don’t know – and I heard them open the door, I grabbed my bag and I ran out through the back door and obviously I never went back. And it was back to wondering ‘What am I gonna do now?’ I think part of it was also because I was just too proud to ask for help and tell people I knew that I was in this situation’. So my next best option was to sleep at AAA in my classroom. Advertising students work very hard and there’s always deadlines all the time so people would be studying up till 2 or 3 in the morning and it was torture because I was just like ‘Oh my God, Can’t you leave already’…
Yeah, like ‘This is my bedroom here’…..
(Laughs) Yes. When they eventually left I’d sleep on the desks and this went on for a while until one day- I used to do this youth thing on Fridays at church’ and my pastor used to drop me off afterwards – so one day he’s like ‘Why am I always dropping you off at school at this time of the night. What’s going on?’ – I tried feeding him some lies about deadlines and that but he didn’t buy any of it. And eventually I just broke down and I told him everything and he put me onto a YMCA type thing. But yeah, I had to drop out of school then because of all these financial issues. I was now working as a waiter and not going to school and every day I kept thinking’ I am not going to spend my whole life as a waiter’ so I decided I needed to make a statement if I was serious about getting into Advertising. I wrote a very funny -if I do say so myself (laughs) – CV which I then sent to this agency which was the most creative and most sought after agency in Cape Town at the time. I wrote all the standard personal details info and then I wrote in bullet point form – I can use phones, faxes and computers without breaking them; some of my best friends are white; I am NOT a member of COSATU …(laughs) In another section on ‘Position applied for’ I wrote Copywriter and on ‘Experience or Skills in this field’ I wrote ‘I used to write slogans on township walls “Free Mandela” and “One man one vote” and these were both very successful campaigns as you may already know’ When they gave me a call they were still laughing and they called me in for an interview and I got the job. That in a nutshell is how I got into advertising (laughs)
Looking back now, you’ve represented all these big brands and have had huge success in the advertising industry. Did you ever dream, back then, when you were sleeping on desks and on the floor, that you would get to this place?
NO. You know I always admire people that say when they were really down and out, they were so certain, even then, that they would get to wherever they’d set out to get to. For me it was not a matter of ‘This is a path I’ve set and I’ll achieve it no matter what’. It was a matter of ‘This situation will not defeat me’ I think that was it. It was a case of ‘I can overcome this’ and I think I was looking at it in that way. Even when I got the job it was still very difficult. It didn’t suddenly become a bed of roses. Again, very few black people in the industry and I was young so it was like I’m a junior and I’m black and I’m in Cape Town (laughs) It was tough and I can’t honestly say I knew things would pen out the way they did but what I did know was that things would get better and I think for me that’s what always drove me. As outrageous as I know I am at times, I’m a deeply spiritual person and there were these 2 verses in the Bible that I would always fall back on. The one was about Job and how he lost everything, and he was down and out and he’d lost all his wealth and then his servant comes to him and says ‘You’ve lost everything and now your children are also dead’ ’and Job tears away his garments and cries ‘Naked I came, Naked I shall depart- May the name of the Lord be praised!’ and for me it was like, if he can say that in that situation, who am I to do anything but. My situation wasn’t nearly as bad. I hadn’t lost any loved ones or anything so I knew things were going to get better. The other one was from the book of James, and I know it by heart, because I had to recite it a lot and tell myself ‘Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete and lack nothing’ And so for me it was like ok, I have to persevere so I can acquire the faith I need to be mature and complete and to lack in nothing. And there is another verse after that one that says ‘for God gives to all freely and without finding fault’ and for me those were the kinds of things that kept me going and motivated in that time.
How did the writing come back into the picture after you started off on the advertising route?
You know, I like doing things. I like doing things that I think I can do and I don’t think twice about doing them. It’s just a matter of ‘I think I can do this, let me try it out’ and then I do it. What you may not know about me which might show you the type of curiosity I have is I went to a stand- up comedy show once and it was my first time I had been to one and I see these guys on stage and I’m like ‘I can do that’ (laughs) I was sure I could do it. So I went to the Cape Comedy Collective, I think that’s what it was called, and I told them I wanted to be a comedian so they showed me the ropes. I said from the beginning that I wanted to be different so my kind of comedy was very different. I didn’t want to be like every other comic who was talking about ‘being black’ so I did something totally different. For a time I was doing pretty okay as a comedian whilst working in advertising at the same time and I was doing it simply because I wanted to do it. And I actually appeared on- I’m going to give away my age here (laughs)- but yeah, I appeared on Phat Joe and some reputable comedy showcases- I got bored and tired of it after a while though and tried other things. How the writing happened was through some of my stuff that I was putting up on YouTube. The Thought Leader for Mail & Guardian contacted me and said they’d seen the stuff I was saying on YouTube and would I be interested in writing for them. I was like ‘sure I can do it’ and I started writing even though it scared me to hell. It’s my constant need to be more than just one dimensional that pushes me. I don’t want to be one dimensional and I’m not. I’m not trying to be all these things – I just cannot ‘not’ be. I want to be everything I think I’m designed to be.
Let’s visit the twitter streets for a bit. You have quite a strong presence there and you have a lot to say about a lot of things. We could throw you any topic under the sun and I’m sure you’d have something to say about it. Where does this come from?
(Laughs) You know it’s so funny because when I look back I always ask myself ‘Have I always been like this?’ and then I remember that I’d debate my uncles who were much older than me when I was still in school about political issues; I’d read the papers and discuss whatever was in them. I used to watch and listen to freaking CODESA negotiations when I was young. I would follow the political process intensely and read about anything and everything I could read about. I liked being challenged and I liked challenging other people. I remember sometime in school we all had to have an oral, and the theme for the oral was ‘A Controversial Subject’ and this was about 2 months after OJ Simpson had been acquitted and this is in a class with 2 black kids and the rest of the kids are white, and I chose him as my subject and I remember starting off by saying ‘White people need to get over this and they need to understand that the justice system says ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and according to that system OJ is an innocent man based on A,B and C…
Talk about controversy – that was it right there…
And then what happened is I promise I never got to finish my presentation. Everyone just started grilling me and throwing me a thousand questions– my teacher even. And they were like but he used to beat her up and I was like ‘Yes, but that doesn’t mean he killed her. It was horrible for him to do that but that didn’t make him a murderer either’. I was standing in front of my class for over 30minutes getting all these questions thrown at me and I only got a break when the period ended. And I remember another time I made a speech about how white people should thank Mandela for freeing us because they now didn’t have to be embarrassed when they travelled overseas to say they were form South Africa (laughs). So yeah, I’ve always pushed buttons. For me; more than anything I think it’s a matter of challenging what I know. The opinions that I have on twitter are an extension of that and of what I’ve always been. I also want people to be interested in some of the things that I’m interested in so I always find a way to do that just so people can engage more and understand more and be a little more curious. That’s what I try to do. And sometimes I just say things because it’s fun and we all need to laugh a little.
Ok let’s talk about your dating life for a bit
Seeing as we’re all nice and relaxed and everything…
(Keeps laughing) I’m listening….
Let’s get this out of the way 1st – Are you seeing anyone?
Yes I am…
A lot of women find you intriguing because you seem like a very very smart guy…
(Laughs)It’s all an act…
Well, it’s working because we’re buying it. Seriously though; do you think you being so smart and well informed gives you an edge over other guys?
I don’t think the fact that I’m well informed does that. I think it’s my personality that does. Honestly. A lot of people for some reason always assume that when they meet me I’ll be this very serious guy and yet 90% of the time I’m not serious at all. I think that comes off as a plus for some people that I’m not as serious and as intense as they expected. I don’t like people who are always serious and I cannot be around people who are always serious. Life is serious enough as it is without our help (laughs). Does that give me an edge over other guys? I don’t know. I think people – women – just like guys who are themselves and I am myself all the time. And I think that’s attractive to people and that’s what might make me attractive to women even though I’m not necessarily that attractive (Laughs)
No comment Khaya.
What do you think you bring into a relationship? What kind of boyfriend are you?
Wow. I think I’m a good boyfriend. Am I as good as I possibly could be? –No. I don’t think anyone can ever really be – it’s quite difficult. You need to fully consider the dynamics of the other person – what they want and expect versus what you want and expect. I know I can be a bit headstrong and stubborn which might make me a not so great boyfriend but I really try to compromise and to negotiate. I negotiate a lot…
Yeah. Let me explain what I mean. Say you tell me ‘Well, I saw you talking to your ex’ or something like that, I will be like ‘Let’s not respond in an emotional way here. Rather let’s look at the context. What exactly did you see me do? Was this something out of the ordinary? How can we work together and move past this?’ I’d rather do this instead of reacting as emotionally as the other person because that always ruins relationships. I always try to avoid tackling something from an emotional place or being aggressive because then both of you become defensive and you end up saying things you really shouldn’t. I remember I used to have a girlfriend – that none of you know by the way (laughs)…
Well thank you for clarifying that because yes, our minds might have jumped to conclusions…
(Laughs)Yeah, Exactly- I just wanted to make sure. Anyway, I’m not a big believer in spending money to prove how much I’m into a relationship. I think spending money is a very easy way of ‘being there’ when in actual fact you could be absent. For me, I’d rather be present and show that I’m present and let the person feel that I’m present rather than me trying to say ‘hey, let’s go to Cape Town or let’s buy these shoes… If we buy the shoes we buy the shoes but never as a substitute for my time. I think materialism is a very bad way of creating a relationship and it worries me that a lot of people seem to think that’s the way to show affection or that you love someone. I cannot do that and if someone cannot accept that then I cannot and I will not be with them. I’d rather give of myself truly and have everything else as a bonus as opposed to ‘If I get you this then its evidence of my love’ when we all know it isn’t.
Let’s talk about your current book project. What was the whole concept behind the ‘Youngsters’ series and what can we expect from your book ‘In My Arrogant Opinion’?
The guys behind this, when they were talking, they said initially they had a shortlist of about 100 people they could possibly work with and they kept narrowing it down until they got to the 5 of us. The whole idea is to get people who don’t normally read books to read. Out of 50million people in this country only 900 000 buy books and that’s the gap they were trying to close. There are so many people who cannot read and we want to reach those. For the series, we could write about anything we wanted and what I decided was to tackle quite a few subjects. There are some very serious issues I tackle but there are also some very light hearted issues that I tackle. I talk about where I come from, I write about white women and fake smiles (laughs), It’s such a stupid random chapter but I enjoyed writing about it, I also write about young black men and how we should not be like our fathers who abandoned and haven’t looked after their children and that we should be the generation that changes that behavior. I talk about the relationship between men, women and money and I call that the love triangle. I talk about the fact that our languages are dying and how English is kind of taking over everything. I talk about ‘towning’ … (laughs)
But of course- what would a Khaya book be without that…?
I discuss quite a few issues and it’s half serious and half not so serious. And then at the back I quote myself (laughs). It’s called the ‘quotable black’…
Is this serious quotes or ‘towning’ quotes…?
There are 3 sections – it’s the good black, the angry black and the quotable black (laughs)
Where to from here for Khaya? What can we expect from you in the near future?
There’s a great thing that Woody Allen said – ‘If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans’ (laughs) so to tell you the truth, where to from now is to wherever the good Lord decides to take me. I am more than willing to go wherever. I’m not afraid of trying things that scare me. Like the job I currently have with Coca Cola, looking back to where I used to work; it’s a very different environment. Advertising is very chilled and laid back, it’s a ‘let’s party; everyone’s cool’ type of setting then going to Coca Cola which was an extremely corporate type of environment. It was terrifying but I was just like ‘you know, this is going to challenge me- I’ll learn new things so let me go for it!’ and for me that’s what it is. You don’t grow if you don’t try things that scare you and if you’re always in your ‘safe’ area you are never going to grow and you are going to always hate those people that put themselves out there. I will always put myself out there and I will take the criticism that comes with that and the things that people have to say because if you don’t want to have an impact then don’t do anything. If you’re going to try and make something happen know what’s coming your way and don’t be afraid of it. There is a great Latin proverb that I love which says ‘Live your own life for you will die your own death’ and I think for me that’s really what counts. I know people are going to criticize and call me a ‘liker’ of things but actually being a liker of things really takes you far. You’ve got to like things to strive for them. So someone might say ‘Oh good heavens, Khaya has written a book now – he’s such a ‘liker’ of things that one’ but for me it’s because I really wanted to write a book and if you’re going to find fault in that then so be it.
One final thing – your arrogant opinion on the following:
I think Julius speaks the truth when it’s convenient for him. When he was with Jacob Zuma he was pro-Jacob all the way and he was going on about how Jacob is cool and now that he’s out he’s got some very harsh things to say about him. I think some of the things he’s saying do need to be said – he worries me to some degree but at the same time I’m like ‘Good for him’- one thing for sure that I keep saying is there is definitely no show better than the Julius Malema show (laughs)
Racism in South Africa
Racism is very complex because it’s more subtle now than it was during Apartheid and that’s what makes it complicated. Sometimes it’s hidden behind ‘seemingly’ good intentions and sometimes I think people don’t even know they’re being racist because it’s such an integral part of who they are. Racism didn’t suddenly die in 1994 but then people had to suddenly ‘change’ their behavior and attitude post ’94. And everyone keeps joking about it – the fact that you don’t meet a single white person today who voted for the National Party – so it’s like ‘did they all die in ’94? What happened to them?’ I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to racism but I also think that black people tend to use the race card very freely even when there isn’t any racism. Instead of using the logical thinking process to try and win an argument or a debate it’s very lazy thinking to always throw in the race card. And I think when you really think things through to see if you were really at fault without letting your emotions get in the way, you might find that you were. Even if there is racism, look at the other aspects that might be bigger than that. Don’t always use racism as the only excuse. If you don’t get that promotion, is it really ‘just because’ you’re black? Ask yourself ‘Am I really performing’ ‘Did I really deserve to get it’? Be honest with yourself. Honesty is what we need. White people need to be honest with themselves and black people also need to be honest with themselves.
Jacob Zuma for a second term of presidency?
That’s a very good question comrade… (laughs)
Thank you Comrade…
What exactly do you want me to answer?
What is your ‘ARROGANT OPINION’ Comrade?
I think the ANC needs to ask itself a very honest question ‘Who is most capable to lead us into the future?’ I think Mandela did a very good thing – everyone loved him when he stepped down and I’m sure if he had run for a second term he probably would have gotten like 70 plus percent of the votes because even the white folk loved him but he knew there was someone else who could lead the country better than he could and I think for me that’s what it’s about – being very honest with yourself and stepping outside of your ego. I think Jacob Zuma and the ANC need to be extremely honest with themselves and not be blinded by a hunger for power. Do I think they’re people who’re better capable of running the country than Jacob? – I think so. Do I think he could run the ANC better than he is currently doing? I think so. Do I think that he could run the country better? I think so. What worries me is if you say things like this about someone, they automatically assume that it’s simply because you don’t like who they are or what they stand for and you have something against them. And that’s not the case. It’s just that we’ve got to look at what the country needs as opposed to what me as an individual might need.
Twitter and its influence or lack thereof…
I think some people take it far too seriously. A lot of people actually. I had a whole thing the other day where I wrote about the ‘twitter theses’ and I wrote about the fact that people tend to get an overinflated view of themselves because of twitter. You get a couple thousand followers and suddenly you think you’re big around the world and you have the license to say whatever it is you want to say regardless of what the rest of the world will think. And there’s also that whole thing of people being relatively anonymous and so because of that you can be quite harsh to people and tweet them things you would never be able to say to them in person. Another thing I always say is ‘Don’t confuse your power on twitter with your power in real life’. There are over 50 million people in South Africa and only a very small fraction of that is on twitter and suddenly because you’re known by a couple thousand people you think you are powerful and you’re ‘Mr Hot Shot’ but when you step outside your door no one knows who the hell you are. I think people need to have a realistic view of who they are and I think a lot of people don’t. And I think sometimes people elevate certain individuals on twitter more than they should be elevated and I will include myself on that list (laughs).
As the elevated or the elevator?
The elevated. There’s this term ‘tweleb’ that I hate. It’s like; let’s go back to what a celebrity is for a second. It’s definitely not a few thousand followers on twitter – that doesn’t qualify you to be a celebrity.
Finally, anything at all you want to share on ‘towning’? Any words, tips, new developments- anything….
(Laughs) Leave the towning to the towners – that’s all I’ve got to say!
October 4, 2011 § 4 Comments
It is beyond shocking that South Africa might deny the Dalai Lama a visa again. He was denied entry into the country the first time around just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Pretoria effectively admitted that it didn’t want to raise the ire of China by allowing him into the country. The press release should have read, “We’re chicken, and we’re really scared of China, so we’ll do what China wants because we’re China’s bitch now.”
We like to call China a friend, but only one-friend benefits while the other is screwed of their dignity. We’re pimping our moral grounding for Chinese money. Maybe I should have just called this column, “The whoring of a nation.”
It would be pathetic if we didn’t allow the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa in order to attend his friend’s birthday, Desmond Tutu. This Nobel Peace Prize winner is being treated no differently from your common criminal.
Our government has selective moral positions when it comes to matters of moral standing. One thing on Tibet, and another on Palestine.
The SA government doesn’t stand for what it believes, it stands for what China believes. We have no backbone. We have lost all moral standing we once had during the Mandela era. It would appear as if our foreign positions are dictated to us by foreign entities. We have committed a great treason against ourselves.
When Nelson Mandela was president, we had swagger. We knew what we stood for and what we stood against. We were direct and were respected for it. No one told us what to do, no matter the financial clout of the government we were dealing with at the time. Back in 1998, when he was president, we were even more desperate for FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) than we are now. Yet we never for a moment cowered to whims of powerful foreign nations.
What this tells us is that a country’s moral standing goes hand in hand with it’s leader’s moral standing.
Our moral authority was clear for all to see. Whether we were at fault or not. The Americans were completely uneasy about South Africa’s relationship with the “Axis of the Outcasts”, Cuba’s Castro, Iran and our relation with Gadaffi and made it very clear to us that this was not ideal and were unhappy. The message was effectively, “You can’t be friends with people we don’t like.” It was a very high school girl kind of affair. Which is what China is doing. Being a high school girl and we’re like the friend that’s desperate to be liked but is being bullied.
When then president Bill Clinton came to South Africa for a state visit in March 1998, Nelson Mandela said to the press, with Bill Clinton standing two metres away from him, “Those who feel we should have no relations with Gaddafi, have no morals. Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool.”
He said it with such certainty and moral conviction that it was clear that we are a sovereign nation that deserved to be treated with respect, and not dictated to, even though our economic clout was a mere drop in the ocean compared to that of the United States. He would not allow us to be treated as anything other than equals. Not only that, we had to behave as equals. Now we’re like a dog waiting for approval from its master so that we can get some breadcrumbs on the floor.
Some speculate that we fear losing out on our standing as a member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a group of developing nations that have formed a strategic trading partnership to give them leverage against the West). Well, India has given the Dalai Lama refuge and they are part of BRICS.
China needs us as much as we need them. China won’t drop South Africa because of the Dalai Lama. They need our minerals and we need their money. They need our resources for their rapidly expanding population, China is not going to react out of emotion and pull out. Our moral cowardice is disgusting.
July 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
*originally made an appearance in the Cape Times on the 31st of January 2011 when Mandela was hospitalised.
The media feeding frenzy that went on the last week surrounding the rumours of the demise of Nelson Mandela was profoundly disturbing. I was not disturbed because I think the man is immortal. I call him a man because he is that – a man, and all that befalls any man must befall him too, for he is only but a man. He was born a mere man but when he dies he will die an immortal.
Unlike other men though, he has achieved immortality not by living forever, for he will not, but because of what he has achieved in his lifetime. He managed to fit in a hundred lifetimes in one. That is the true mark of his immortality.
The truth is Nelson Mandela will never die. Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo and countless other heroes who lived their lives for others. Yes, his human flaws will come flying when he eventually departs, just as some tried, unsuccessfully to tarnish those of the likes of Gandhi and MLK after they were deceased and could no longer defend themselves.
The world’s media descended upon Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg and waited to hear that Mandela was dead. It is as if they were hoping that he was dead so that they could have something big to break. The feeding frenzy made me wish for something I dreaded to wish. I wished that he would die in his sleep so that the circus we witnessed this past week doesn’t happen again.
I understand that many people complain about the media blackout. It is a legitimate cry nonetheless. I suspect though that the media would still have carried on with it’s frantic coverage even if the health concerns had been addressed timeously because the media is sceptical, as it should be.
It is time we left him alone. Mandela’s family gave him up to us for most of his life. The least we can do at this time is to give him back to them. They deserve him and we should at least give them that. The constant speculation deprives them of enjoying these last few months or years of his life with him.
Yes, he is the nation’s treasure, but he is also a husband, father, great grandfather and an uncle amongst other things. Yes we own him, let us not try to own his last moments, let his family do that. This is not Big Brother where we have to see every single detail of how he spends his last few moments before he is “evicted”. We will own him forever in history books, monuments and national holidays that will undoubtedly be made in his honour. I plead that we give his family space. Let’s not rob them again.
Of course we can wish him well and pray for his speedy recovery. Some are concerned that he will be a great loss to the nation if he dies. I don’t believe he will think that he is a great loss. What he would consider to be a loss is if we don’t fight against poverty, we stop the fight against AIDS. He would be devastated if South Africa were to return to a past he fought against. As he said during his trial, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
If these ideals are not upheld then it will be a great loss. And we as a nation would be a great disappointment for there is nothing improper about a single word he spoke on that day.
We have been blessed to have such a remarkable giant living in our lifetime. As great as it is to have him, it is a great pity that we had a society that made Nelson Mandela necessary.
June 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
*originally appeared on the Cape Times on 13 June 2006, two days after her funeral
One of the most moving moments for me at the funeral of Albertina Sisulu was the mourners spontaneously burst into song after Graca Machel read a message from Nelson Mandela who said that he would have loved to have been at the funeral but, “It would be too painful for me to watch you go.”
“The years have taken the toll on us, one-by-one friends and comrades have passed on and it feels like a part of oneself has been cut off.” He has lost many of his friends. He is seeing them pass one by one. “I want to bid farewell to a comrade and friend,” Machel read to the crowd. “You are part of my being, you and Walter…I want to express my deep gratitude to you.” This is why I think the crowds started singing about Mandela; they knew it wouldn’t be long before we miss him. When Albertina died, she was the same age as Mandela.
She never sought glory for her role in the struggle. Humility is a kind of genius. Albertina Sisulu was that kind of genius. At one point, her husband, children and a grandchild were all in prison for their fight against apartheid, yet through it all she never lost her dignity and hope in human beings. Today, many of her children and grandchildren are in public service. One could call her family the Kennedys of South Africa.
Many people solely want to associate her with the struggle against apartheid, but there is something far greater that she showed young South Africans. Love. The resilience of that cheesy insipidity thing called love. Walter and Albertina’s greatest story is their obvious and apparent love for each other. Considering how skeptical the youth are about love, the lesson we should take from the Sisulus is that love is possible under any trying circumstance.
Walter and Albertina were not just the heroes of the struggle, but they were also heroes of love. In our broken societies today there are no greater role models than these two. Perhaps that is their greatest contribution to a youth that is constantly growing cynical about love. They search for it even though they no longer believe in it. Whenever we hear the story, or we see the a picture of Makhulu Albertina Sisulu, she makes us believe in love again.
As a relatively young person, I think that it is sad that we seem to forget the heroes of the struggle. Some times we forget them whilst they are still alive. Sadly.
We are running out of true heroes whose sole purpose was to serve the people. As we run out of them, our cups runneth over with self-serving “servants” of the people. Men and women who believe that they liberated the country to line their pockets with money and power. Albertina Sisulu was not one of those people. She felt that her duty was to teach her children to contribute to the nation. The duty of every grateful South African is to look for ways in which to serve the country. Let not those who struggled, have struggled in vain.
I love heroes. And I don’t mean the TV series. What I love about our heroes is the fact that they were all so human. What I love about Makhulu Albertina is that she was never trying to be hero. She was just doing what was right. It was for the right to be with her husband whom she loved so much. It was to free a country and a people which she loved so much. It was never about her, it was always about love.
She was a midwife. She delivered many children, so it was only fitting that she would also deliver a whole nation. May her memory never diminish. May we remember her always. Her quite dignity does not mean we ought to be quite about what she did for the country. There is nothing quite about it, there is every reason for us to brag about it, despite her humility.
February 22, 2010 § 27 Comments
This is one of my favourite speeches by Thabo Mbeki as he addressed the dangers of the pursuit of wealth at all costs. The lecture was televised. I recall seeing Tokyo Sexwale smilling and shifting uncomfortably as Mbeki spoke.
*you can watch the video below if you want
I believe I know this as a matter of fact, that the great masses of our country everyday pray that the new South Africa that is being born will be a good, a moral, a humane and a caring South Africa, which, as it matures, will progressively guarantee the happiness of all its citizens.
I say this as I begin this Lecture to warn you about my intentions, which are about trying to convince you that because of the infancy of our brand new society, we have the possibility to act in ways that would, for the foreseeable future, infuse the values of Ubuntu into our very being as a people.
But what is it that constitutes Ubuntu – beyond the standard and yet correct rendition – Motho ke motho ka motho yo mongoe: Umuntu ngumuntu
The Book of Poverbs in the Holy Bible contains some injunctions that capture a number of elements of what I believe constitute important features of the
Spirit of Ubuntu, which we should strive to implant in the very bosom of the new South Africa that is being born – the food of the soul that would inspire all our people to say that they are proud to be South African!
The Proverbs say:
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
“Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.”
The Book of Proverbs assumes that as human beings, we have the human capacity to do as it says – not to withhold the good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of (our) hand to do it, and not to say NO to our neighbour, come again, and we will give you something tomorrow, even when we can give the necessary help today.
It assumes that we can be encouraged not to devise evil against our neighbours, with whom we otherwise live in harmony.
It assumes that we are capable of responding to the injunction that we should not declare war against anybody without cause, especially those who have not caused us any harm.
It urges that in our actions, we should not seek to emulate the demeanour of our oppressors, nor adopt their evil practices.
I am conscious of the fact that to the cynics, all this sounds truly like the behaviour we would expect and demand of angels. I am also certain that all of us are convinced that, most unfortunately, we would find it difficult to find such angels in our country, who would number more than the fingers on two hands!
It may indeed very well be that, as against coming across those we can honestly describe as good people, we would find it easier to identify not only evil-doers, but also those who intentionally set out to do evil. In this regard, we would not be an exception in terms both of time and space.
To illustrate what I am trying to say, I will take the liberty to quote words from the world of drama. I know of none of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, except Richard III, that begins with an open declaration of villainy by the very villain of the play.
This well-known play begins with an oration by the Duke of Gloucester, who later becomes King Richard III, in which he unashamedly declares his evil intentions, in these famous words:
“Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;…
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other…”
This open proclamation of evil intent stands in direct opposition to the directive in the Proverbs, which said, “Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”
Surely, all this tells us the naked truth that the intention to do good, however noble in its purposes, does not guarantee that such good will be done.
Nevertheless we must ask ourselves the question whether this reality of the presence of many Richards III in our midst, dictates that we should, accordingly, avoid setting ourselves the goal to do good!
Many years ago now, Nelson Mandela made bold to say that our country needs an “RDP of the soul”, the Reconstruction and Development if its soul.
He made this call as our country, in the aftermath of our liberation in 1994, was immersed in an effort to understand the elements of the Reconstruction and
Development Programme that had constituted the core of the Election Manifesto of the ANC in our first democratic elections.
That RDP was eminently about changing the material conditions of the lives of our people. It made no reference to matters of the soul, except indirectly. For instance, the RDP document said:
“The RDP integrates (economic) growth, development, reconstruction and redistribution into a unified programme. The key to this link is an infrastructural programme that will provide access to modern and effective services like electricity, water, telecommunications, transport, health, education and training for all our people…This will lead to an increased output in all sectors of the economy, and by modernising our infrastructure and human resource development, we will also enhance export capacity. Success in linking reconstruction and development is essential if we are to achieve peace and security for all.”
All of these were, and remain critically important and eminently correct objectives that we must continue to pursue. Indeed, in every election since 1994, our contending parties have vied for the favours of our people on the basis of statistics that are about all these things.
All revolutions, which, by definition, seek to replace one social order with another, are, in the end, and in essence, concerned with human beings and the improvement of the human condition. This is also true of our Democratic Revolution of 1994.
Assuming this assertion to be true, we must also say that human fulfillment consists of more than “access to modern and effective services like electricity, water, telecommunications, transport, health, education and training for all our people”, to use the words in the RDP document.
As distinct from other species of the animal world, human beings also have spiritual needs. It might perhaps be more accurate and less arrogant to say that these needs are more elevated and have a more defining impact on human beings than they do on other citizens of the animal world.
Thus do all of us, and not merely the religious leaders, speak of the intangible element that is immanent in all human beings – the soul!
Acceptance of this proposition as a fact must necessarily mean that we have to accept the related assertion that, consequently, all human societies also have a soul!
To deny this would demand that we argue in a convincing manner, and therefore with all due logical coherence, that the fact that individual human beings might have a soul does not necessarily mean that the human societies they combine to constitute will themselves, in consequence, also have a soul!
I dare say that this would prove to be an impossible task. Nevertheless, we must accept that, as in the contrast provided by the Proverbs and Richard III, and with regard to the construction of a humane and caring society, we must accept that this entails a struggle, rather than any self-evident and inevitable victory of good over evil.
The question must therefore arise – for those among us who believe that we represent the good, what must we do to succeed in our purposes!
Since no human action takes place outside of established objective reality, and since we want to achieve our objectives, necessarily we must strive to understand the social conditions that would help to determine whether we succeed or fail.
What I have said relates directly to what needed and needs to be done to achieve the objective that Nelson Mandela set the nation, to accomplish the RDP of its soul.
In this regard, I will take the liberty to quote what I said in 1978 in a Lecture delivered in Canada, reflecting on the formation of South African society, which was later reproduced in the ANC journal, “Sechaba”, under the title “The Historical Injustice”.
“The historic compromise of 1910 has therefore this significance that in granting the vanquished Boer equal political and social status with the British victor, it imposed on both the duty to defend the status quo against especially those whom that status quo defined as the dominated. The capitalist class, to whom everything has a cash value, has never considered moral incentives as very dependable. As part of the arrangement, it therefore decided that material incentives must play a prominent part.
“It consequently bought out the whole white population. It offered a price to the white workers and the Afrikaner farmers in exchange for an undertaking that they would shed their blood in defence of capital. Both worker and farmer, like Faustus, took the devil’s offering and, like Faustus, they will have to pay on the appointed day.
“The workers took the offering in monthly cash grants and reserved jobs. The farmers took their share by having black labour, including and especially prison labour directed to the farms. They also took it in the form of huge subsidies and loans to help them maintain a ‘civilised standard of living’.”
Of relevance to our purposes this evening, the critical point conveyed in these paragraphs is that, within the context of the development of capitalism in our country, individual acquisition of material wealth, produced through the oppression and exploitation of the black majority, became the defining social value in the organisation of white society.
Because the white minority was the dominant social force in our country, it entrenched in our society as a whole, including among the oppressed, the deep- seated understanding that personal wealth constituted the only true measure of individual and social success.
As we achieved our freedom in 1994, this had become the dominant social value, affecting the entirety of our population. Inevitably, as an established social norm, this manifested itself even in the democratic state machinery that had, seemingly “seamlessly”, replaced the apartheid state machinery.
I am arguing that the new order, born of the victory in 1994, inherited a well-entrenched value system that placed individual acquisition of wealth at the very centre of the value system of our society as a whole.
In practice this meant that, provided this did not threaten overt social disorder, society assumed a tolerant or permissive attitude towards such crimes as theft and corruption, especially if these related to public property.
The phenomenon we are describing, which we considered as particularly South African, was in fact symptomatic of the capitalist system in all countries. It had been analysed by all serious commentators on the capitalist political-economy, including such early analysts as Adam Smith.
Specifically, in this regard, we are speaking of the observations made by the political-economists that, since the onset of capitalism in England, the values of the capitalist market, of individual profit maximisation, had tended to displace the values of human solidarity.
In despair at this development, R. H. Tawney wrote in his famous book, “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism”:
“To argue, in the manner of Machiavelli, that there is one rule for business and another for private life, is to open the door to an orgy of unscrupulousness before which the mind recoils…(Yet) granted that I should love my neighbour as myself, the questions which, under modern conditions of large-scale (economic) organisation, remain for solution are, Who precisely is my neighbour? And, How exactly am I to make my love for him effective in practice?
“To these questions the conventional religious teaching supplied no answer, for it had not even realised that they could be put…Religion had not yet learned to console itself for the practical difficulty of applying its moral principles, by clasping the comfortable formula that for the transactions of economic life no moral principles exist.”
In his well known book, “The Great Transformation”, in a Chapter headed “Market and Man”, Karl Polanyi went on to say:
“To separate labour from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organisation, an atomistic and individualist one.
“Such a scheme of destruction was best served by the application of the principle of freedom of contract. In practice this meant that the non- contractual organisations of kinship, neighbourhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom.
“To represent this principle as one of non- interference, as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the expression of an ingrained prejudice in favour of a definite kind of interference, namely, such as would destroy non-contractual relations between individuals and prevent the spontaneous reformation.”
In a Foreword to a recent edition of this book, Joseph Stiglitz says: “Polanyi stresses a particular defect in the self-regulating economy that only recently has been brought back into discussion. It involves the relationship between the economy and society, with how economic systems, or reforms, can affect how individuals relate to one another. Again, as the importance of social relations has increasingly become recognised, the vocabulary has changed. We now talk, for instance, about social capital.”
With reference to this Lecture, the central point made by Polanyi is that the capitalist market destroys relations of “kinship, neighbourhood, profession, and creed”, replacing these with the pursuit of personal wealth by citizens who, as he says, have become “atomistic and individualistic.”
Thus, everyday, and during every hour of our time beyond sleep, the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realizable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity – get rich! get rich! get rich!
And thus has it come about that many of us accept that our common natural instinct to escape from poverty is but the other side of the same coin on whose reverse side are written the words – at all costs, get rich!
In these circumstances, personal wealth, and the public communication of the message that we are people of wealth, becomes, at the same time, the means by which we communicate the message that we are worthy citizens of our community, the very exemplars of what defines the product of a liberated
This peculiar striving produces the particular result that manifestations of wealth, defined in specific ways, determine the individuality of each one of us who seeks to achieve happiness and self-fulfilment, given the liberty that the revolution of 1994 brought to all of us.
In these circumstances, the meaning of freedom has come to be defined not by the seemingly ethereal and therefore intangible gift of liberty, but by the designer labels on the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the spaciousness of our houses and our yards, their geographic location, the company we keep, and what we do as part of that company.
In the event that what I have said has come across as a meaningless ramble, let me state what I have been saying more directly.
It is perfectly obvious that many in our society, having absorbed the value system of the capitalist market, have come to the conclusion that, for them, personal success and fulfilment means personal enrichment at all costs, and the most theatrical and striking public display of that wealth.
What this means is that many in our society have come to accept that what is socially correct is not the proverbial expression – “manners maketh the man” – but the notion that each one of us is as excellent a human being as our demonstrated wealth suggests!
On previous occasions, I have cited statements made by the well-known financier, George Soros, which directly confront the crisis to social cohesion and human solidarity caused by what I have sought to address – the elevation of the profit motive and the personal acquisition of wealth as the principal and guiding objectives in the construction of modern societies, including our own.
With your permission, and because it is relevant to what I am trying to communicate, I will take the liberty to quote this paragraph once again, believing that it resonates with a particular sense of honesty, because it emanates from one of the iconic figures of late 20th century capitalism.
Among other things, George Soros said that in an earlier epoch, “People were guided by a set of moral principles that found expression in behaviour outside the scope of the market mechanism…
“Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better…People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor…
“The laissez-faire argument against income redistribution invokes the doctrine of the survival of the fittest…There is something wrong with making the survival of the fittest a guiding principle of civilised society…Cooperation is as much a part of the (economic) system as competition, and the slogan ‘survival of the fittest’ distorts this fact…
“I blame the prevailing attitude, which holds that the unhampered pursuit of self-interest will bring abou tan eventual international equilibrium (in the world economy).”
(All quotations from: George Soros: “The Capitalist
Threat”. The Atlantic Monthly, February 1997.)
The critical concern that George Soros has expressed is what he describes as “market fundamentalism”, the dominance and precedence of the capitalist motive of private profit maximisation, which has evolved into the central objective that informs the construction of modern human society in all its elements.
Nothing can come out of this except the destruction of human society, resulting from the atomisation of society into an agglomeration of individuals who pursue mutually antagonistic materialist goals.
Necessarily, and inevitably, this cannot but negate social cohesion and mutually beneficial human solidarity, and therefore the most fundamental condition of the existence of all human beings, namely, the mutually interdependent human relationships without which the individual human being cannot exist.
I am arguing that, whatever the benefit to any individual member of our nation, including all those present in this hall, we nevertheless share a fundamental objective to defeat the tendency in our society towards the deification of personal wealth as the distinguishing feature of the new citizen of the new South Africa.
With some trepidation, advisedly assuming that there is the allotted proportion of hardened cynics present here this evening, I will nevertheless make bold to quote an ancient text, which reads, in Old English:
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”
I know that given the level of education of our audience this evening, the overwhelming majority among us will know that I have extracted the passages I have quoted from the Book of Proverbs contained in the St James’ edition of the Holy Bible.
It may be that the scepticism of our age has dulled our collective and individual sensitivity to the messages of this Book of Faith and all the messages that it seeks to convey to all of us.
In this regard, I know that I have not served the purposes of this Book well, by exploiting the possibility it provides, to say to you and everybody else who might be listening – “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…”
Everyday, the ant, one of the smallest inhabitants of our common animal world, goes about her ways in search of sustenance, depending on nature’s harvest in all seasons, as well as her own little ways, to provide her with meat in the hot summer months.
To consider her ways means that we too, who unknowingly squash to death the miniscule pygmies of the world, as we tread the common earth as giants of the universe, means that we must develop the wisdom that will ensure the survival and cohesion of human society.
It assumes that we have the humility to understand that “a little folding of the hands to sleep”, travel and service in the defence of the nation, might impoverish us by depriving us of our regular meals, but simultaneously make us “happy (as) the man that (finds) wisdom, and the man that (gets) understanding.”
It would be dishonest of me not to assume that what I have cited from the Book of Proverbs will, at best, evoke literary interest, and, at worst, a minor theological controversy.
My own view is that the Proverbs raise important issues that bear on what our nation is trying to do to define the soul of the new South Africa.
I believe they communicate a challenging message about how we should respond to the situation immanent in our society concerning the adulation of personal wealth, and the attendant tendency to pay little practical regard to what each one of us might do to assist our neighbour to achieve the goal of a better life.
I must also accept that many among us might very well think that, like the proverbial King Canute, I am trying to wish away the waves of self-aggrandisement that might be characteristic of global human society.
To return to the Holy Bible, the Book of Genesis says, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”. (Genesis 3:19).
This Biblical text suggests that of critical importance to every South African is consideration of the material conditions of life, and therefore the attendant pursuit of personal wealth. After all, what interpretation should be attached to the statementthat “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread”!
Perhaps strangely, this could be said to coincideexactly with a fundamental proposition advanced by the founders of Marxism, expressed by Friederich Engels at the funeral of Karl Marx in the followingwords:
“Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”
Putting all this in more dramatic language, Marx had said: “Man must eat before he can think”! In this regard, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, said: “Before we perceive, we breathe: we cannot exist without air, food and drink”.
In the context of this Lecture, and what we will say later, we must state that Marx and Engels represented a particular point of view in the evolution of the discipline of philosophy, and were not asserting any love for the private accumulation of wealth. They were “materialists”, who were militantly opposed to another philosophical tendency described as “idealism”.
One of the most famous expressions of this “idealism” was stated by the French scholar and philosopher, Rene Descartes, who wrote, in Latin: “Cogito, ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am”, and, in the original French rendition, “Je pense, donc je suis”.)
In the context of our own challenges, this “idealism” must serve to focus our attention on issues other than the tasks of the production and distribution of material wealth.
The philosophers in our ranks will have to engage the old debate of the relationship between mind and matter expressed in the statements, “Man must eat before he can think.”!, and “I think, therefore I am.”
I am certain that our country’s philosopher- theologians will continue to be interested in these discussions. After all, some of the earliest expression of “idealism”, as a philosophical expression, is also contained in the Holy Bible.
In this regard, for instance, St John’s Gospel says: “In the beginning was the Word…”
I am certain that many in this auditorium have been asking themselves the question why I have referred so insistently on the Christian Holy Scriptures. Let me explain.
I believe that it is obvious to all of us that economic news and our economic challenges have come to occupy a central element of our daily diet of information.
Matters relating to such important issues as unemployment and job creation, disbursements from the national budget and expenditures on such items of education, health, welfare and transport, the economic growth rate, the balance between our imports and exports, the value of the Rand, skills development, broad based black economic empowerment, and the development of the “second economy”, have all become part of our daily discourse.
Nevertheless the old intellectual debate between “materialists” and “idealists”, whatever side we take in this regard, must tell us that human life is about more than the economy, and therefore material considerations.
I believe that as a nation we must make a special effort to understand and act on this, because of what I have said already, that personal pursuit of material gain, as the beginning and end of our life purpose, is already beginning to corrode our social and national cohesion.
Clearly, what this means is that when we talk of a better life for all, within the context of a shared sense of national unity and national reconciliation, we must look beyond the undoubtedly correct economic objectives our nation has set itself.
In this context, I must say that, most unfortunately, there is much trouble in the world. Much too regularly all of us are exposed, daily, to news of human-made conflict and death, and the disasters caused by poverty and natural disasters.
In reality I must confess that I have hardly ever heard of conflicts caused merely by low economic growth rates, currency movements and balance of payments problems, except to the extent that these produce a crisis in society.
Currently, none of us can avoid being extremely concerned about what is happening in the Middle East. What is happening in this region constitutes a tinder box that has the potential to set the whole world aflame. As a country and people, we surely know that the highly negative events in the Middle
East are of direct and immediate concern to us.
It seems tragically clear that here we are confronted with an impending catastrophe that is almost out of control. Nothing that has been done and said during this period of high crisis that has produced the necessary agreement which would pull humanity back from the brink of an escalating conflict that can only feed on itself, leading to a further fanning of the terrible fires that already seem to be burning out of control.
In this regard we must pose the question whether, even in the medium term, we are not ineluctably progressing towards the situation when the centre cannot hold. I refer here not only to the serious problems in the Middle East but to the phenomenon of social conflict everywhere else in the world.
As Europe and the world sowed the seeds for the catastrophe later represented by the Second World War as in a Greek tragedy, the eminent Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, like other European thinkers, sounded alarm bells that nobody seemed to hear.
What he said survives today as outstanding poetry. Hopefully, the warning he sounded so many decades ago will be heard today, so that, by our acts of commission and omission, we do not condemn humanity to an age of extreme misery and death that could have been avoided.
In an appeal to the Muses, when all else seems to be failing, I take this opportunity humbly to summon from the grave an extraordinary human mind, to inspire the living to focus on the dangers ahead, and strive to ensure that, emanating from Jerusalem, the acre of the fountain of many faiths, no monstrous beast slouches out of Bethlehem to be born!
Thus do I appeal that all of us, the mighty and the lowly, hear the words of the poet not only with our ears, but also with our minds and our hearts, as he spoke of “The Second Coming”!
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds…
…but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at
last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I believe that for us to ensure that things do not fall apart, we must, in the first instance, never allow that the market should be the principal determinant of the nature of our society. We should firmly oppose the “market fundamentalism” which George Soros has denounced as the force that has led society to lose its anchor.
Instead, we must place at the centre of our daily activities the pursuit of the goals of social cohesion and human solidarity. We must, therefore, strive to integrate into the national consciousness the value system contained in the world outlook described as Ubuntu.
We must therefore constantly ask ourselves the question – what is it in our country that militates against social cohesion and human solidarity? I believe that none of us present here tonight would have any difficulty in answering this question.
I am therefore certain that we would all agree that to achieve the social cohesion and human solidarity we seek, we must vigorously confront the legacy of poverty, racism and sexism. At the same time, we must persist in our efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
Mere reliance on the market would never help us to achieve these outcomes. Indeed, if we were to rely on the market to produce these results, what would happen would be the exacerbation of the deep- seated problems of poverty, racism and sexism and a retreat from the realisation of the objective of national reconciliation.
Then indeed would we open the door to the demons that W.B. Yeats saw slouching towards Bethlehem to be born – emerging from the situation where the centre could not hold, in which mere anarchy would be loosed upon the world.
We must therefore say that the Biblical injunction is surely correct, that “Man cannot live by bread alone”, and therefore that the mere pursuit of individual wealth can never satisfy the need immanent in all human beings to lead lives of happiness.
The conflicts we see today and have seen in many parts of the world should themselves communicate the daily message to us that the construction of cohesive human society concerns much more than the attainment of high economic growth rates, important as this objective is.
As we agonise over the unnecessary killings of innocent people and the destruction of much- needed infrastructure in Iraq and Palestine, in Lebanon and Israel, we have to ensure that we do not slide into an era when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, when things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.
Indeed, as we, South Africans, grapple with our own challenges, billions of the poor and the marginalised across the globe see the world ever evolving into a more sinister, cold and bitter place: this is the world that is gradually defined by increasing racism, xenophobia, ethnic animosity, religious conflicts, and the scourge of terrorism.
In this context, we have seen the rise of rightwing formations, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance in France, Germany, Holland, Russia and many other European countries. This, in part, is a reaction to the relentless development of complex and varied forms that societies are ineluctably assuming due to the processes of globalisation.
It nevertheless also points to the absence of an integrative thrust – some reconciler – the institutionalised processes that would end the sense of alienation and marginalisation that leads to social conflict.
Indeed even in these developed societies, rising levels of poverty and insecurity have invariably conspired to fertilise the ground from which germinates ignorance about the ‘other’, and portend a bleak future for the prospect of what has been called a dialogue among civilisations.
In many European countries, immigration from the South is seen as an intrusive force that is bound to create ‘impurities’ in local cultures and in many instances, put a burden on available resources. In this regard, I am certain that all of us have been dismayed to see the way in which many in Europe have responded to the African economic migrants, who daily risk their lives to escape the grinding poverty in our own African countries.
Fortunately, in our case, I would say that our nation has begun to exhibit many critical common features deriving from a unified vision of a society based on non-racialism, non-sexism, shared prosperity, and peace and stability. Yet, at the same time, we still display strong traits of our divided past, with the debate about our future quite often coalescing along definite racial lines.
Despite this, and despite the advances we have made in our 12 years of freedom, we must also recognise the reality that we still have a long way to go before we can say we have eradicated the embedded impulses that militate against social cohesion, human solidarity and national reconciliation.
We should never allow ourselves the dangerous luxury of complacency, believing that we are immune to the conflicts that we see and have seen in so many parts of the world.
At the very same time as a ray of hope shone over our country and continent with the liberation of our country in 1994, and as you, Madiba, declared to the world that “the sun shall never set on so glorious a day”, our fellow Africans, the Rwandese people, engulfed in a horrific genocide, lamented in unison that: ‘the angels have left us’.
In a Foreword to the book of the same name, Archbishop Tutu said: “When we come face to face with ghastly atrocities we are appalled and want to ask: ‘But what happened to these people that they have acted in this manner? What happened to their humanity that they should become inhumane?’
“…Yes we hang our heads in shame as we witness our extraordinary capacity to be vicious, cruel and almost devoid of humanness.”
The imperative we face is that we should never permit that our country should witness the actions devoid of humanness of which Archbishop Tutu spoke, some of which were a feature of our long years of colonialism and apartheid.
Indeed, in a world that still suffers from the blight of intolerance, wars, antagonistic conflicts, racism, tribalism and marginalisation, national reconciliation and reconciliation among the nations, will remain a challenge that must occupy the entire human race continuously.
In our case we should say that we are fortunate that we had a Nelson Mandela who made bold to give us the task to attend to the “RDP of the soul”, and lent his considerable weight to the achievement of the goal of national reconciliation and the achievement of the goal of a better life for all our people.
Ten years ago, Madiba travelled to the Republic of Congo to assist the people of the then Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to make peace among themselves. In this regard, he was conscious of the task we share as Africans to end the conflicts on our Continent, many of which are driven by the failure to effect the RDP of the African soul, to uphold the principles of Ubuntu, consciously to strive for social cohesion, human solidarity and national reconciliation.
Tomorrow the people of the DRC will go to the polls to elect their President and Members of the National Assembly. Everything points to the happy outcome that these democratic elections, the first in more that 40 years, will produce a result that truly reflects the will of the people of the DRC.
We must therefore say that we have arrived at a proud moment of hope for the DRC and Africa, and wish the sister people of the DRC unqualified success.
Yes, the Middle East is engulfed in flames that are devouring many people in this region, and cause enormous pain to ourselves as well. But this we can also say, difficult as it may be for some fully to accept, what the people of the DRC have done and will do, is also helping to define a world of hope, radically different from the universe of despair which seems to imprison the sister peoples of the Middle East.
I can think of no better birthday present for Madiba than tomorrow’s elections in the DRC, and no better tribute to the initiative he took 10 years ago to plead with the leaders of the Congolese people that together, as Africans, we must build a society based on the noble precept that – Motho ke motho ka motho yo mongoe: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu!
Once again, happy birthday Madiba!
April 24, 2009 § 2 Comments
February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment
A friend (cyber friend might be more appropriate) of mine made an interesting comment on facebook about Tokyo Sexwale who accused COPE of using old people to get votes. I quote, “I thought Tokyo said they don’t use old people to win votes!”
A few days ago the ANC marched and paraded Nelson Mandela before a crowd, newspapers and television cameras crowing about his endorsement. Perhaps I should quote Tokyo’s criticism of Cope, “”Our mothers are taken, house to house, they are also paraded on TV, these people are performing witchcraft with our mothers… They are liars. You can’t have respect for people who use older people in that fashion.” Does this mean we shouldn’t have respect for the ANC for using an old man who couldn’t even read his own endorsement because he is so frail, weak and tired?
Madiba was well within his rights to endorse the ANC. There was nothing wrong or right with him endorsing the party of his choosing. He was excersing his right to do what he thought was right.
Of course when mamu Epainette Mbeki, the former president’s mother came out to endorse COPE, Tokyo said using old people to get votes was witchcraft. Naturally, he hasn’t called out Jacob Zuma or the ANC for that matter for using an old person to get votes. His silence as the self appointed defender of the elderly is of course not surprising.
Tokyo should not have higher standards for other parties than he has for his own. It is a sad day when we speak of our politicians and say, “What did you expect?” That is what many have come to expect of this once respected man. ANC members have whispered to me and called him an opportunist that can’t be trusted. They have said he will go with whatever side he believes will win. They no longer recognise the comrade they fought with in the 80’s and early 90’s. As his wealth has escalated, his character as a politician has diminished. No one doubts his business acumen, it is his political opportunism that leaves one wondering. Is this just a case of man gaining the world but losing his soul in process?
November 24, 2008 § 5 Comments
Allow me to make a bold claim: it was not the ANC that brought us liberation. It was a vehicle that the people used to bring themselves to freedom. Just like the newfound Cope cannot claim to be the defender of the Constitution. The people are merely using it as a vehicle to defend the constitution.
I have been somewhat disturbed by some things that I have heard from certain leaders of the ANC of late. Words such as: “Cope is stealing our history, it is stealing our leaders.”
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but does the history of the struggle for freedom not belong to all South Africans? To claim ownership is to belittle the contribution of those who belong not only to South African history textbooks, but also to the pages of world history. Freedom belongs to no party.
The moment the ANC feels that it has the right to the history of the struggle, it won’t be too long before it tells us that we, the citizens of this country owe it, and as a result must accept anything it does to the country because without it we would not be free. We cannot, and must not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the ANC. Or any party of that matter. Whatever we may owe as a people, we owe to the red, blue, black, white, green and yellow colours of the flag.
The people who contributed to the Freedom Charter were not necessarily ANC card-carrying members. They were South Africans from all walks of life who wanted to be free. Some even contributed despite their white privilege because they desired that all people enjoy the freedoms they also enjoyed.
When Nelson Mandela and others languished in prison for so many years, it was not just for members of the ANC, but for all South Africans. They did not only struggle for black South Africans, but for those white South Africans who were imprisoned by their own prejudices. Yes, they fought for the racists too.
If history belongs to a certain party then that means Oliver Thambo, Nelson Mandela, Chief Albert Luthuli, Beyers Naude, Walter Sisulu, Ruth First, Winnie Madikizela Mandela and many others should not be taught in schools, but rather to those whose parents belong to a certain party.
To allow people to carry on talking in this manner about the heroes of the struggle is to make them smaller than they are. Then we can say that the ANC does not appreciate what it helped bring. We shall all be eternally grateful to the ANC, and we cannot belittle what it did. However, by claiming ownership of the struggle, it belittles itself.
Robert Sobukwe does not belong to the PAC, nor does Steven Bantu Biko belong to the Black Consciousness Movement.
Therefore, the people of this nation have no loyalty to any party – owe no favours to anyone. But their allegiance belongs to the country that many bled and died for.
Once again, let us cherish the history of this nation by not making it belong to a group.
September 25, 2008 § 8 Comments
If Zuma were to get up and address the nation and tell us that he has no intentions of running for the presidency of the country, he would do much to repair his chequered reputation. Such an announcement would probably be one of the single greatest acts of self-sacrifice this nation has ever seen. It would be a great turn around. He would redeem himself in many people’s eyes.
But then again, who am I kidding? Nothing of the sort would ever happen; not in a million years. If Jacob Zuma were to be asked today if he would be willing to stand down in the name of party unity he would give us the predictable rehearsed classic response, “I serve at the pleasure of the ANC. If the ANC says that they want me to serve as president of the country, I will serve. If it says it wants me to sweep the floors I will. It is not for me to say I don’t want to be president or I want that position.” I would bet a billion rand that’s what he would say if asked. Ok, maybe not those precise words but you get my drift.
It is my understanding that no one puts a gun against anyone’s head and forces someone to a position they don’t want in the ANC. Sometimes our leaders treat us as though we are idiots. We may be dumb, but we certainly aren’t as dumb as they think.
In a clever attempt to have it both ways, Zuma could also announce to the nation that he is making that consideration when in fact he isn’t. The Youth League, Cosatu and others would then shout from the rooftops and he would “cave”. He would then say that there are too many calls for him to run — he simply cannot ignore those calls; he has to serve the people. I expect that he would also point to the example set by Nelson Mandela who, before the elections, is reported to have told the NEC that he did not want to be president of the country because he felt he was too old. He also argued that there were younger and more capable hands to lead the country. The only difference is that there were no divisions within the ANC at the time. The ANC urged him to stand because the world trusted him and he would also ease any white fears. Basically, it was best for the country for him to be president.
Referring to the Mandela example, is it the best thing for the country to have a Zuma presidency? In fact, let me pose a less noble question. Is it the best thing for the ANC? I doubt that it is best for the ANC for him to run and these are my very unscientific reasons:
1. If he runs, the ANC will most certainly have a reduced majority at the polls next year as a direct result of the manner in which Thabo Mbeki has been treated. It was not the most politically astute move to make a few months before the general elections.
2. The DA will most certainly win the Western Cape thanks to the divisions in the ANC and the coloured vote going to the DA once again.
3. I am convinced that the UDM will see an increase in enthusiasm for it, particularly in the Eastern Cape. Personally, I believe Bantubonke Holomisa has been making sense for a very long time but nobody has been listening.
4. Much of the young, black middle class feels like political orphans at the moment and will either abandon the ANC and will not vote, or they will look for a new home.
Did the ANC really consider all of these possibilities before the ousting of Thabo Mbeki? Did they really have the interests of the ANC at heart or did they just have the interests of one man? Or were the Zumarites so drunk with victory after Judge Nicholson’s judgment that they threw reason out the window?
The advantage of having Kgalema Motlanthe as president is that he would be his own man. He owes no one. The ANC would remain largely intact if he were to run for the presidency. Most of those who feel like they are political orphans now that Thabo Mbeki has been fired would come back home. The ANC wouldn’t suffer as much in the elections next year.
Unfortunately the ANC is led by a group of hot heads who would never consider Kgalema Motlanthe as the option for party and country. They want what they want and they will do whatever it takes to get it. Get rid of the Scorpions, get rid of unwanted premiers, get rid of Thabo Mbeki and maybe the next thing is to drop all charges against Jacob Zuma. And finally, President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.
If Zuma were to stand down it would probably be one of the greatest selfless acts we have ever witnessed as a nation. Not just because he would forego power, but he would forego a couple of extra pages in the history books as South Africa’s third democratically elected president.
If Zuma takes this course of action, he would also free himself from the political debts he owes. His creditors would tell him in no uncertain terms that a debtor cannot tell his creditors how he wants to pay them. He simply has to abide by the terms and conditions that have been set out before him, or there will be consequences. He might be forced to constantly make decisions he doesn’t want to make as president because he owes so many people. Zuma is between a rock and stainless steel.
To be fair, none of us know what it’s like to be Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. We can only imagine the torments he goes through. Now he can see a light at the end of the tunnel. But once he emerges into the light, will he be his own master?
Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma both damaged the ANC. They should ride into the sunset and allow others to repair the mess they have created. I suspect both men believe the other is responsible for this mess. They should leave the stage for Kgalema Motlanthe.
The question is: is Zuma man enough to give up what no man would give up? Can he truly give up what he has been working towards for such a long time? Can he give it up when it is within reach? When he has it in the palm of his hand? If I were him I don’t know if I would be able to. And that is the truth. Perhaps we should understand why he wouldn’t give up. But I don’t think we should excuse him for not letting go.
*first published September 25 2008, http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/khayadlanga