I wonder if Mandela feels like my grandmother at this point in time

June 11, 2013 § 15 Comments

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Old people die because they are old not because they are sick. On January 27 2011, after Nelson Mandela’s hospitalization, he released the following statement, “I am not sick, I am old.”

His most recent hospitalization reminded me of old people within my family. My mother’s side of the family has been blessed with longevity. My grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, had four siblings, all of them died over the age of 85 bar one who lived a short life of 66 years. To the rest of her siblings, it was like she died a mere teenager. The oldest was 98 when she passed on, although I have even heard that she was 108 according to some accounts because there was no birth certificate. My grandfather was 87 when he finally made the curtain call.

I remember one of his siblings, Nofour Boyce (yes, that was her name), who got married into the Dandalas, who passed away at the ripe old age of 94, was old as far back as I can remember. She was always old, always had a walking stick, always wore glasses and her hair was always grey. She was never young in eyes.

My grandfather, Kaiser Boyce, would visit her every single day. They lived in the same village some 3 kilometers apart. They would sit on her veranda all day talking, sometimes my grandfather would leave in a huff and get on his horse because of some argument they might have had. Yet he’d be back the next day.

After his wife, Victoria Boyce, passed on, he’d get on one of his horses to visit his sister more frequently than before. More often than not, the horse he rode was Commando, his favourite one. I remember how mad he would get if he gave one of his horses to someone for one errand or another and it was returned with sweat stains. That always told him that whoever rode the horse rode it hard and didn’t much care for it. The culprit would never ever be given one of his horses ever again.

I was not in the village when he passed away a few years ago. He was in extreme pain from his illness for a long time. Seeing him in pain, pained us. It was as if pain was slowly taking life away from him every time he had to be rushed to hospital. When he eventually passed away, there was a sad relief that the pain had finally decided to give him rest.

Nofour was left alone when he died. Her husband had passed away in the early 70s. Perhaps my grandfather felt a brotherly responsibility towards his older sister. He was after all the only male out of all his siblings. As Xhosa culture dictates, he had to be the man of the house now.

Nofour Dandala became really lonely when Kaiser Boyce passed away. There was no one old enough to share the memories of old with. And she became very sickly. Every now and then she would be rushed to hospital after she turned 87. When she fell sick, she would ask the villagers to call a priest for her because she thought she was going to die. When the priest did eventually arrive she would chase him away.

As she advanced further in years, her memory started to fade and so did her eye sight, so much so that even the glasses did not seem to help. She began to forget her grandchildren too. Yet she never forgot me even though I was not one of her direct grandchildren, I was her brother’s grandchild. Perhaps that was because I’d visit her with my grandfather as a child.

One day while I was visiting her at the hospital in Johannesburg a few weeks before she passed away, she said to me, “You know my child, I realized my mind was not what it used to be when I asked for my brother a few years ago. I was angry because he had stopped visiting me. I was so mad at him. I wanted to know why. Then I was told that he had passed away, and that I had been at the funeral. I cannot tell you the pain I felt that day, missing my brother and realizing that my mind is also going. I know that it is time for me to go now to be with my siblings.  When you are old and have no one, you just want to go because you are just tired.” A few days after that she stopped talking all together. My cousin and I would go to her bedside everyday and we’d joke amongst ourselves, every now and then, we’d see a faint smile through her closed eyes and through the pipe in her mouth.

Now, as Mandela has gone on another hospital trip, I wonder if he feels like my grandmother, or as we called her, uKhulu.

English is not my mother’s tongue

May 21, 2013 § 15 Comments

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Excerpt from my book, In My Arrogant Opinion

English is a difficult language with excellent public relations. If you speak English, and have the added bonus of speaking it well with a great accent, you are suddenly propelled into the class of the intelligent. You are not even required to have achieved anything.

I’m not the world’s most articulate person. I hate my voice. I hate hearing it, which seems like a great contradiction considering how often I am caught speaking. If talking were like a speeding fine, I’d have many of those fines because I talk whenever there is an opportunity to do so, particularly about subjects I am interested in.

In the apartheid years, my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school in the small town of Qumbu in the Transkei. The name of the school was Little Flower Junior Secondary School and it went from Sub A to Standard 7. Little Flower J.S.S. You know you went to a hood school when your school’s name ends with a J.S.S. – and it didn’t have a school song, even though it was probably the most prestigious school in the Transkei.

All children were forbidden from speaking Xhosa or any language other than English. When you arrived at the school for the first time, you were given leeway to include Xhosa in your English until month three. After that you were expected to have mastered the English language. Most of us had never spoken a word of English prior to when we were accepted into the school. Myself included.

The principal of the school was an imperious nun with a slightly short right leg. Her right shoe always had a thicker sole. Her name was Sister Daniel and she was Austrian. She really enforced the use of English in the school despite her Austrian background.

One day, my Standard 3 teacher was off sick. As a result, Standards 2 and 3 had to be combined. We were instructed to remain silent for the remainder of the day. I said something to a friend who was sitting next to me. Then another thing. The teacher caught me whispering and she told me to ‘Shush’ with the authority of a feared teacher. I shut up. Immediately. Unfortunately, I have a very short attention span …

I said something else to my friend. She caught me again and summoned me and my innocent friend to her desk. Then she said, ‘Go to Sister Daniel’s office and tell her that you spoke in class!’ Now, it is true that I had spoken in class. But unfortunately, lunch was an hour away. Let me explain why this was unfortunate. Don’t worry; there is a point to this story.

If you were caught shouting, speaking in class when you were not supposed to, or speaking Xhosa, it was tickets. A piece of brown masking tape would be put on your mouth for three hours. If your three hours fell between meal times, sorry for you, no eating. We ate meat three times a week. And the day the teacher told me to go to the principal’s office to get my mouth decorated with masking tape was one of those meat days. I was not about to go down like that. I must have been 11 at the time. I wanted my meat and I was not about to miss it just because I had spoken in class when I wasn’t supposed to. I guess one could say that there was a thin line between abuse and discipline then.

My friend was the first one to walk out the class. I was very close to the door when I turned back to the teacher and said, ‘Sorry Miss.’ I took one step closer to her desk. She carried on looking at her notes or marking or doing whatever it is that teachers do when they are not teaching.  I inched another step closer and said, ‘Sorry Miss’. Each time she ignored me but I carried on until I was very close to her table. She got up wielding a stick, which encouraged me to get out of the class with great speed.

A minute later, I stepped back into the class without having gone to the principal’s office and said again, ‘Sorry Miss.’ This time, she laughed and said, ‘That’s very manly of you.’ She let me back in the class. Sometimes persistence pays off because I didn’t get any masking tape and I enjoyed my lunch. Yellow samp, cabbage and a boiled chicken wing. It had no flavour, but it was the tasting meat I ever had because I was this close to not having it.

My story is not as tragic as that of Thobile. Thobile was a big, burly, dark young boy. He had the strength of a bull and no one ever messed with him. We had been at Little Flower boarding school for eight months at the time. Unfortunately for Thobile, it took him a really long time for him to learn to speak in English.

One day Thobile needed to sharpen his pencil. We were in Standard 2 and were only allowed to use pencils when writing. Cursive was a big deal back then. Another boy was already standing over the dustbin sharpening his pencil. He was the smallest boy in the class and constantly seeking the teacher’s approval. I saw him hand a sharpener to Thobile and then approach the teacher, Mrs Landu.

‘Thobile just spoke Xhosa, Miss,’ he whispered to Mrs Landu just loud enough for the rest of the class to hear, but faking discretion at the same time. Thirty ten-year-olds looked up from their books in horror. ‘He did what?’ We were all thinking it.

‘What did he say?’Mrs Landu asked.

‘He said, “Khawuthi umshini ndithishwele-shwele.”’ (‘Give me the sharpener so that I can just, quick, quick.’) Upon hearing this horror – a child speaking his mother tongue in class – Mrs Landu summoned Thobile to her desk and picked up her stick. Corporal punishment was very legal back then.

She made him lift his hand and began hitting him.

‘What did I say, Thobile?’ Mrs Landu asked as she struck him.

‘Did you say Miss! Did you say Miss!’ Thobile tried in his best English while screaming from the pain.

‘What did I say, Thobile?’ Mrs Landu asked him again as her stick repeatedly came down on his hand.

‘Did you say Miss! Did you say Miss!’ Thobile failed again to respond in appropriate English. He was struggling to say, ‘You said we shouldn’t speak Xhosa, Miss.’ His bad English still amused us even after eight months in the school, but we didn’t laugh out loud, of course. It was not his mother’s tongue. And I do know that it is ‘mother tongue’ in case you wanted to correct me. I know you blacks. Always correcting someone’s English. It’s for emphasis, dear reader.

Thobile was sent to the principal’s office. Masking tape was put over his mouth and he missed his lunch. We learned that it was bad to speak Xhosa. One’s mother tongue was inferior to English.

Thus we participated in the suppression of our languages from a very early age. No one objected to it and no one saw anything wrong with it. But today I feel for Thobile because I realise that he was being made to feel bad and somehow less than for speaking his language.

What makes learning English doubly tough, are the blacks. Yes. The blacks. The people of the melanin-advantaged sort, of which I am a member.

Why do I say such a thing? Well, for one thing, no one laughs harder at another black person who has just mispronounced an English word than black people. Perhaps the laugh is some sort of superiority complex that makes people feel a little bit better about themselves because they have mastered the master’s language, and so they mock the poor victims of George.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain who George is in case you are wondering – but he isn’t who you expect him to be – if you are a member of the melanin-disadvantaged persuasion, that is.

Funnily enough, no one laughs or mocks another black person who mispronounces a word in their indigenous African languages. There is no pointing, no laughing. Unless, of course, it is about the word ‘ukunyoba’. For some reason, this word takes people back to their schoolgoing days.

The word for bribe in Xhosa is ‘ukunyoba’. In Zulu, the very same word actually means, ‘hanky-panky’ or ‘sex’, if you prefer. Perhaps the two words are rather apt because when it comes to bribery, someone gets screwed in the end. But I digress.

There are many examples of us laughing at other black people for mispronouncing English words. Our most prominent example at the moment is Jacob Zuma. When he makes speeches, people will more often than not comment on his pronunciation rather than the contents of his speech. Words such as ‘management’ depart from his tongue and reach our ears over the airwaves sounding like ‘man-age-ment’. I never laugh at the president’s pronunciation, mainly because I mispronounce about 60% of English words. Although, to be honest, I can’t help laughing at how he reads. We all know how he reads. The following is inspired by the work of that South African fellow now in Hollywood, Trevor Noah.

Pretend that the following sentence comes from his mouth. It is. Very. Diffi-cult to. Follow the. Presi-dent’s. Speeches sometimes.

I, like the president, wasn’t born speaking English. Most black South Africans were not born speaking it either. So it is not, whatchamacallit? It is not our mother’s tongue. This language, which came to South Africa on a ship, has another name. Many black South Africans call it ‘George’, after King George of England. There is something deeply disturbing about how George has taken over the life of the ordinary black South African. In fact, it is not so much that English is here. It is the manner in which we are allowing it to obliterate the rest of the African languages. Particularly for the privileged agent blacks.

Who are the agent blacks? I count myself in this group. We are the ones who went to what were formerly Model C schools after the election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president of South Africa. These schools only offered English and Afrikaans, and some an African language, but the African languages were never given the same status as English or Afrikaans.

So we decided to study Afrikaans instead of our languages. It is no wonder then that some schools have decided to drop teaching Xhosa and Zulu even though Xhosa and Zulu are the two most spoken languages in the country. We can’t blame the white man for this one. We have to blame ourselves and our government for allowing it to happen. It is shameful. Can you imagine England deciding not to teach English anymore? We have shortchanged ourselves.

We need to save our languages. Mother tongue languages have to be compulsory in schools. We shouldn’t even be debating this.

My most extensive interview by Divasinc. Got me to say things I’ve never said about myself.

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

(Laughs)

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.

(Laughs)

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…

Negotiate…?

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:

Julius Malema

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!

Economic freedom: The new Swart Gevaar

September 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Originally appeared on my news24 column, 2011-09-06 08:15

Perhaps I should start off with some shocking numbers, which I’m sure some will tell me I haven’t put in line with population numbers, education levels and other such factors. Well, there are other societies in the world that are similar to ours but hardly as unequal.

In 1995, just a year after the demise of apartheid, the average white income was R48 387, R9 668 for coloureds, R23 424 for Asians and a whopping R6 525 for blacks. Fast forward to 2008. You think things might have improved because you see lots of black folks driving fancy cars and eating in fancy restaurants, right? Let’s see if you are right. White per capita income in 2008 was R75 297, coloured was R16 527, R51 457 for Asians and a bling, bling R9 790 for blacks. While a white person makes R100 a black person makes R13.

This is after BEE, AA and all sorts of other acronyms we have decided to put in place. None of them have made a dent. In fact, adjusted to inflation levels to the year 2000 per capita, blacks still don’t make as much money as whites did in 1917. Whites made R13 069 per capita in 1917. In the year 2008, blacks were only making R9 790. These stats are Leibbrandt, M et al (2010), “Trends in South African Income Distribution and Poverty since the Fall of Apartheid.” I didn’t make them up. A white person made them up. I promise.

When then deputy president Thabo Mbeki made his “Two Nations” speech at the opening of the debate in the National Assembly, on “Reconciliation and Nation Building” in 1998, some accused him of being divisive, there was no such thing. Well, the numbers speak for themselves.

For those of you who are too young to know history (you know history, that thing that happens in the past so that you can have a future and that subject you hated in school ), Swart Gevaar is what the fears of a black revolution was known during the apartheid era. Swart Gevaar, the Black Threat. Free blacks were a threat for some odd reason.

It is also known as black entitlement these days. Not to say that there is no such thing as entitlement. There are people who feel like they are owed something by someone, people that feel they don’t have to work for anything. Unfortunately some want to paint all black people with this brush. It is not true. We don’t mind working hard to get what we want, but we mind having to work extra hard just to get a fraction of what a white person gets. But if it means we must work extra hard, we do it anyway.

It is a mistake to think that economic transformation is a black issue; it is a South African issue. Every South African should be trying to make it happen. We can no longer afford to delay. The longer we delay, the closer the day of destruction moonwalks.

It is the will to transfer skills, it is to teach others how to create and make wealth. It is about ensuring that we avoid the day when a populist, charismatic and angry leader will lead angry, hungry masses on the streets. On that day, it won’t just be the whites who will lose out my fellow black brothers and sisters, it will be everyone who lives in Sandton and any other such fancy abodes.

This is why economic liberation is the duty of every South African. If you forget the forgotten for too long, they will make us remember them. Woe unto the haves if that day comes. Again, it won’t be a black and white issue, it will be about the have nots, the majority which is black of course.

In the 1920s, in the Eastern Cape, black people started talking about having their land back and opposition to white rule was mobilised. A series of crop failures, cattle disease, locusts and drought put pressure on people. A newspaper of the time wrote, “These are the general conditions of life; poverty growing into hunger, debt with no hope of escape. No people under the sun who have not been tamed and weakened by centuries of low diet and despotism can fail in such conditions to get into a state of unrest.”

Maybe what we can say about today is that poverty is growing into hunger into anger. There it is up to the private sector to be proactive to ensure that it is opening up to grow the pie so that more can access it. The private sector is very quick to point fingers at government when it does naught. The private sector needs to do more to aid government before it is forced to by legislation.

Black economic liberation is essential for the survival of this country and continued white prosperity. Those who think that economic transformation is about taking from the whites to blacks don’t get it. I believe that economic freedom is about giving everyone the opportunity to create jobs and to make money.

We are not trying to take from the whites so that they have nothing. We just want a chance for as many people to be prosperous, not just to showcase a few wealthy black people and pretend that is true economic transformation. It’s not. It’s black economic window dressing.

All black people want really is the ability to make money in their land. They want to feel like they own their own country by owning its wealth. That is all. There is no need to fear black prosperity. No need for the Black Economic gevaar.

The Freedom Charter clearly says, “The people shall share in the wealth of the land.” As you can see, it doesn’t say, “The people shall share in the wealth of the land but the blacks.” Let’s fix this.

To lobola or not to lobola?

July 25, 2012 § 6 Comments

Originally appeared on my News24 column, 2010-11-03 11:04

There are two sides to the lobola debate. Some say it must be abolished because the tradition has lost everything it is meant to stand for. There is a feeling that this tradition has become about greed and not about relationships between families, as was the original intention.

Some say that we cannot abandon this custom because if we do, we lose everything that is African about us. These are the people who are fighting against what they view as the increasing Westernisation strangulation of African customs. They are opposed to the view that what is African is barbaric and that which is Western is civilized. Point is – both sides of the argument make valid positions.

People who do not understand the concept of lobola seem to think it is about purchasing a wife. There is no such thing as buying a wife when it comes to lobola. Those who call it a sale, as though one goes to Mr Price to pick a woman for the right price, are completely mistaken as to what this is all about. The original intention of lobola was to create a bond between the two families – that of the bride and of the groom.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, lobola has really lost its way. It has lost all meaning. The girls’ families often ask for too much, negotiations take a while, sometimes to such an extent that the relationship between the couple breaks down beyond repair because of unreasonable demands made by the bride’s family. Tempers flare, insults are exchanged, egos are hurt engagements are called off. In the end, what was meant to be the beginning of a lifelong family gathering is broken beyond repair.

Asking for too much

A few years ago, a friend of mine was on the verge of marrying a girl who had been known for her, well, liberal exploits with boys during her high school years. I asked him about the lobola negotiations and he said to me: “Bra, they are asking for a lot of money. The problem is these girls’ parents don’t know of their precious daughter’s escapades. Now they think they can ask for these insane amounts of money.” Six years later, neither of them is married. My friend moved to another country.

A lot of women are in support of this custom. One finds very few opposed to it. The argument that is often raised is that they are well-educated, they have been raised well and all sorts of things that are included in the negotiating process. I always fail to understand this logic; raising a daughter well is not so that she can find a good man, it is so that she can be a great human being. An education is to benefit her too; it is not there to serve her future husband.

The argument for the abolitionists states that as a young man about to start a family you must pay up and at times, insane amounts of money for your future bride. And to make matters even more complex, there is the engagement ring and the wedding rings that must still be bought.

Then there are the massive weddings. Yes. Weddings. The traditional and the Western weddings. Those cost money too. By the time one has settled down, one hasn’t settled the wedding debt. How is one to start a happy family under these circumstances they ask themselves? Is it time move away from lobola?

Lobola classes?

Others believe it is as part of our culture as the sun rising from the east. It is the way it is. It is the way it has always been, therefore, it will be that will until the end of time. The argument here is that no one asks for the church to be abolished simply because it has been misused by some. They want to hold on to culture, although a majority of them can’t even explain to you what they mean by that. They speak about honouring what has been done before even though it is not done in the spirit that honours those who came before.

Let’s face it, lobola has become about greed. It has become about what the bride’s parents can get from the groom. I was once told of a family that asked for a Mercedes Benz E Class from their wealthy future son-in-law. He bought it.

If we are to continue honouring the tradition of lobola as it ought to be, it should be practiced with the original intention. It must stop being the farce that is has become. We have come to disgrace it; our ancestors would never recognise it for what it was meant to be. There should be some sort of lobola classes to teach us all what it really is about because it goes beyond just negotiating what I want you to pay for my daughter.

Cape Town Shuns Black Talent

July 24, 2012 § 8 Comments

originally appeared in my Cape Times column on July 16 2012

SIX YEARS ago, I packed my bags in the Mother City and headed for the City of Gold. I left Cape Town behind despite its beauty, my many friends and the many beautiful women who adorn the city. About the many beautiful women allow me an aside. I went to Cannes, France in my first year in Joburg. While I was there, many people who had visited Cape Town would say: “That place has some of the most beautiful women in the world.”

In Cape Town, I had the most diverse group of friends. In fact – at the risk of sounding like that guy – some of my best friends were white. I’d probably say 60 percent were white; the rest were a mixture of black and coloured.

After I’d moved to Joburg, a white friend said to me: “Most of your pictures on Facebook were with white people when you were in Cape Town. Now that you are in Johannesburg they are just of black people.” We laughed, but it was true. I will never forget looking at a picture of five of my friends one day. All of them had left Cape Town for Joburg that year.

All those in the picture were black. Hardly any of my white friends had left Cape Town for Jozi. In fact, the thought of moving to Joburg was completely revolting to them. This got me thinking – why? Well, my black friends felt that they could not progress in their careers in Cape Town. There was a feeling that they were not taken seriously and were just there to make up numbers.

The prospect of making it big in Cape Town was just never there and the possibility was never shown to them. And the money was not attractive, either.

The white kids didn’t feel there was no place for them to make it in Cape Town, so they were comfortable in their careers and did not feel the need or pressure to move.

Once my friends had moved to the City of Gold, they had bigger responsibilities and were well supported by the business owners who hired them. They didn’t feel as if they had been hired as a favour; rather, they were expected to be good at their jobs. And they were.

It was the last place I worked at in Cape Town where I really felt valued. In fact, I had my most creative years in advertising when I worked there.

Cape Town needs to rethink how to retain black talent. Everyone wants to feel that they are important to the progress of an organisation. The more Cape Town denies that there is an issue with retaining black talent, the tougher it will be for the city to retain and attract black talent.

Some organisations like to use the age-old excuse that black talent wants a lot of money. It’s not just black folk that want to be well paid. Everybody wants that.Black people already know that working in Cape Town will be tough for them, so they’d rather be paid well while working in a hostile environment.

It’s only logical. No one goes to work in Dubai to be paid the same as they would be here. The weather is terrible and you have different rights than the local people. It makes sense to be paid well for the sacrifice you are making to be there. Black people do want to work in Cape Town, but the environment isn’t friendly to them. They would rather work where they are welcome; they don’t have to beg to work in Cape Town.

If Cape Town doesn’t change, soon, businesses in the city will have to pay more than Joburg for black talent because there will be a lack of supply.

South Africa’s Quest for Mediocrity

June 11, 2012 § 13 Comments

This is from a talk I gave on the 7th of June.

I am natural optimist. However I am here to depress you today. I strongly believe that you have got to understand the miserable state that the world is in in order to get to a place of optimism. Insanity is averting your eyes from the realities and calling that optimism. An optimist looks at the world as is but knows that no problem is insurmountable and takes practical steps to defeat the problem. It is in this vain then that I intend to depress you.

I would like to start off with a quote I quote as often as I can. These are the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.”

I want to call the first part of my talk South Africa’s quest for mediocrity.

About three months ago I went to the department of Home Affairs to get a new ID. I noticed two boys, both about 16. One was from the suburbs and the other from a township.

You could tell that the boy from the township had a swagger about him, that was always on full display when roaming the streets. Then he had an encounter with a document that swagger could not fill in. He seemed bewildered, too intimidated to even ask the Home Affairs officials what to do. A simple piece of paper had transformed him into a scared little boy. I helped him, he didn’t understand basic questions. I was broken because he was just two or so year away from matric, yet he didn’t know how to read a form.

This child was ill-equipped to understand basic English. Ill equipped to write. He had been handicapped by the very system that was meant to equip him. If we continue this way, we are preparing a vast number of South African youth for mediocrity. The fact that one can be in high school and struggle to write and read is a fallacy. To find 33% acceptable is unacceptable. We are telling our young people that it is fine to be an under-achiever, and that we will applaud them for doing less than is required. Steadily, but surely we march towards mediocrity. We have a choice to make, to be mediocre or extra ordinary. What we do with our young people will determine the course we take.

The second boy was obviously from the suburbs, he was there with his father. He was confident, also black. He asked confidently where he could find the document he had to fill out, didn’t ask for assistance, filled in his form and left with his waiting father. You could tell that he had all the educational requirements and all it took was the money and options his parents had.

The other child had limited options and opportunities. And as life goes on, those opportunities and options narrow even further. Yet, and yet we will punish him as soon as he gets out of school for meeting those low expectations by denying him a higher education. We will deny him a good paying job even though he met the low standard that we set for him. Basically we have trapped him into a cycle of poverty he might never get out of by not equipping him. If you set someone low standards, they will meet them. But on the flip side of the coin, if you set someone high standards, they will meet them.

On May 17 2012, Professor Jonathan Jansen posted the following tweet and I quote, “What does the Minister of Basic Education and Verwoerd have in common? They both believe that 30 percent is acceptable for black learners.” Professor Jansen’s point is harsh, but I know what was trying to say. Before I get to my interpretation of the professor’s point, allow me to talk to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index, which measures a set of institutions, policies. It is based on12 pillars, which include: institutions, infrastructure, macro economic environment, health and primary education, higher education and more. The report was based on 137 countries in the world in 2010.

One of the key impediments to growth and international competitiveness according to the report is our poor education record. In university enrolments we were placed 99th out of 135 countries. Our education system is ranked 130th, whilst the quality of our science and maths educations comes in at the bottom, 137th. And now back to the point that professor Jansen made. Allow me to quote Verwoerd on the matter of education and the “Bantu”.

“There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.” End quote.

The quality of education that we are giving our children at this point is not vastly different from that which Verwoerd intended. This means that we are not preparing ourselves for the future. They are not even being trained for jobs of the present. This is also means that companies won’t want to invest in South Africa because we don’t the necessary skills for those companies to thrive here.

In an opinion piece pinned by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote the following piece after the London protests “How can the world avoid an explosion of youth protests in the coming years when we are already experiencing an epidemic of youth unemployment today? And how can our generation—who fared better than our parents—begin to understand what it feels like for the coming generation who already fear they will do worse?”

We have to start asking ourselves question: what will happen if the inequalities persist? Inequality is not just a South African trend. Inequality is actually on the rise in the United States. In an article published by Vanity Fair Magazine, Nobel Prize wining Economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, “The six Walmart heirs wealth equals that of the entire bottom 30%” of the United States.

The youth is not a homogenous group that can be defined into one heap. There is no sameness in South Africa. However, some are more the same than others. Even those who want to be the same as someone else cannot achieve sameness because they are, by virtue of their birth and station in life are already different. Even identical twins are different.

I will end off this section with the following:

We have to start equipping them. We have to close the door on mediocrity. We must not accept it from government, our schools nor should we expect it from ourselves. We should expect big things of one another. Greatness starts small. It doesn’t start big. It starts in the corner at home. At the office, not cutting corners. It starts with trying to achieve more than what is expected of us. Good enough is not good enough anymore.

The second part of my talk is about the Fame Monster.

We live in an era that makes things look easy. Especially fame. We can blame Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton for that.

We see the Fame Monster in the long lines one get sees when the Idols, Live and other such auditions open up and people who clearly know that they have no talent show up, the chance and allure to be on television is too great to resist. It is a chance to set oneself apart. But some do it because they really want to do it, because they love it – and it shows.

Not everybody can be famous. If everybody is famous then nobody is famous.

They look for fame for fame’s sake and nothing else. They do not know why and to what end they want to be famous for. It is a means perhaps to find meaning and value for their existence. Maybe it is really because we are still struggling with what we need to fight for as the youth. If I can’t change the world and be in history books, let me at least be famous seems to be the motto.

The social networks have of course created the illusion of fame. Once someone gets a couple of thousand of followers, they begin to think that the whole country knows who they are. Twitter especially seems like cheap and easy access to this pseudo fame. It is, to paraphrase my favourite show on TV at the moment, Game of Thrones, “Internet fame is an illusion, a shadow on the wall.” They are not as influential as they think, nor as powerful or as popular as they believe.

There is the perception that appearance is everything. If I appear to be, then I am. It is not true. And now, to quote myself, “We have departed from “love thy neighbour,” that our parents taught us to “impress thy neighbour””

It is also demonstrated by people spending what they do not have in order to be respected for buying things they cannot afford. The surface becomes more important than inherent value. We have seen the display of materialism being glorified on our TVs. The more inaccessible an item is to the masses, the more value is placed on those individuals who display what they have. There was a program shown on TV recently showing kids in the townships who call themselves Izikhothane. Their hereos are Khanyi Mbau and Kenny Kunene.

In his Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in 2006, then president Thabo Mbeki said, “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.

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!” You could also add there, “Get famous! Get famous!”  It is something that started a long time ago.

We have to create a vision in order for the youth to feel that they have history to make. We need to do this with a fierce urgency. We have to give their existence meaning – that there is hope beyond just mere existence. That they can make history. And that starts with educating them in order to give them a fair chance.

The Underbelly of South African racism

May 8, 2012 § 19 Comments

*originally appeared in the Cape Times on 07 April 2012

The ugly face of racism reared its enormous head again in South Africa on the Twitter social network platform in the shape of Jessica Leandra, who has now been stripped of her 2011 FHM model of the year by FHM. In case you haven’t heard about the incident, she wrote a tweet the following tweet and I quote, “Just, well took on a an arrogant and disrespectful k***** inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have.”

What is shocking is the fact that she wrote the “K” word. What is worse is that it demonstrates that it is terminology that she probably uses in private if she can so freely use it on such a public platform. It was no accident. Some may even blame her youth by saying that she is 20. When I was 20 or younger, I never racially abused anyone. All that I would have done is make the typical jokes about whites can’t dance and blacks can’t swim. And it ends there.

I was surprised that a young person who grew up after apartheid had ended could have such thoughts to begin with. She had also written a tweet earlier, which said, again I quote, “Highlight of my weekend? Almost punching a petrol assistant. No tolerance for rude African monkeys.”

Years ago, while I was working on an anti-racism advertising campaign, I spoke to a psychologist who worked for the Human Rights Commission at the time and said something to me that still stuck with me today. He said that in research, it has been shown that South Africans are the only people in the world who will share their racist views or biases with a complete stranger and assume that the stranger will share the same view as them.

What this shows then is that large sections of South Africans still hold racial biases hidden behind concerns of crime, when the real issue is actually racism. Six years ago, when I first moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I stayed in a B&B in my first month in the big city. I met two American women who had been traveling around the world for a year. They had been in South Africa for a few weeks and told me that they had not met a single black person staying at a B&B, all the black people they had met worked at B&Bs.

They also found it strange that when they drove in the Transkei a white man told them that if they happen to hit a black person, they should not stop to help because “These people will rob you.” They were shocked that the person saw nothing wrong with what he said. They were equally surprised that he just shared these views assuming that they would thank him.

Of course this is not meant to point fingers. What it is meant to point out is that maybe South Africans are still racially charged but are in denial about it. It also makes us wonder how many of these conversations happen in private. How many people sit around their backyards talking about k*****s?

Maybe Jessica is a symptom of something simmering underneath the surface. Perhaps there are still those in our society who believe that blacks don’t fully belong and do not deserve to be treated as equals. That they have not earned their place in society nor the positions that they may hold. There is a denial of the realities. That it is still a white world and that the black person must remember that he deserves to be treated as a lesser being and remind him of his inferiority.

People may want to keep appearances and deny that they may hold these views, but the reality is that these kinds of scenes are acted out everyday in the country, some in more subtle ways than others. Perhaps we ought to applaud Jessica for exposing the under bellies of South African racism hidden behind the veil of false politeness. 

Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke opening statement before Judicial Services Commission

August 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Opening Statement by   at the special meeting of the Judicial Services Commision held in Cape Town, 20 August 2011.

Esteemed members of the Judicial Service Commission (Commission), I thank you for attending this special meeting on such short notice .I welcome you all.

In my capacity as Deputy Chief Justice, I have convened this special meeting at the written request of the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, Mr Jacob Zuma and in accordance with to the provisions of section 178(7) of the Constitution.  That section provides that if the Chief Justice is unable to serve on the Commission, the Deputy Chief Justice acts as his or her alternate on the Commission.

In a letter to me dated 16 August 2011, the President informs that it is necessary to appoint a new Chief Justice and that in his view “Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will be a suitable candidate to assume the position of the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa”.

The letter records that section 174(3) of the Constitution requires that the President consult, amongst others, with the Commission on the appointment of the Chief Justice.  Pursuant to that provision the President requests the Commission to let him have its views on the suitability of Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for appointment as Chief Justice.

I caused the letter from the President to be circulated to all members of the Commission.  Responses of some members made it clear that there are differences of opinion on the procedure the Commission must follow when it is consulted by the President as required by section 174(3) of the Constitution.

Thus, this meeting has the singular purpose of determining the procedure to be followed by the JSC when its views are required by the President on the suitability of a nominee he or she intends to appoint as Chief Justice.  Naturally, when the procedure is certain, the time, date and place where the nominee or nominees would submit to an interview have to be fixed.

Before I invite deliberation on this narrow purpose of the meeting, it is proper and necessary that I banish the elephant out of the room.  That elephant is whether I am available to be a nominee or contender or contestant for the position of Chief Justice?

Our country and its people have been exposed to considerable media and public conversations on the nomination of the Chief Justice. Certain media reports have expressed preferences on who the President should nominate.  Of course, that constitutional prerogative vests in the President.

Some organisations have gone further and mentioned me by name as a possible nominee. Others media reports and organisations have purported to nominate me or have said that they would do so if the Commission’s procedure were to permit them.

I thank those within our nation who have shown trust in me and thought that I could serve our country in that crucial position. Equally, I understand and respect the views of those who take a different view.

Let me make it clear that, much as I consider it an honour to be thought of as a potential nominee for the post of Chief Justice of this country, I have never solicited or accepted any nomination and I am not available to accept any nomination, whatever its source, now or after the deliberations of this Commission.  Therefore I am neither a hopeful, nor a nominee or a contender, present or future, for the position of Chief Justice.

In some instances, public speculation nearly suggests that my very life depends on my being appointed Chief Justice.  That is simply not so.  As matters stand, it is a rare privilege to serve my country on its highest Court.  This came after a long and rewarding career, over more than 30 years, as a candidate attorney, attorney, junior counsel, senior counsel, judge of the High Court and later of the Constitutional Court.  I am further honoured to serve as Deputy Chief Justice.  I am indeed prepared to serve on any other court below the Constitutional Court.  I would hope that the usefulness of my contribution on the Court and to the democratic project to create an equal, cohesive and socially just society does not depend on the position I hold or the position I am given or indeed the position I manage to extract for myself.  Every one of us can make a worthy contribution, whatever our position. We need not abandon good sense, the task at hand, or principle in order to get up the ladder of hierarchy or privilege.

If my reckoning is accurate, my term on the Court ends at the end of 2016.  Provided that my will and energy to serve do not wilt, I will continue to serve where I am now, dutifully and in the best sense of a patriotic judge who seeks to make a contribution towards achieving a better life for all.  To accomplish that, I need not be a Chief Justice.

Having cleared the overgrowth, I now invite debate on the issues at hand.

Cape Town, 20 August 2011

Black man, you are on your own

August 18, 2011 § 11 Comments

I wrote a blog that lamented the fact that 91% of the CEOs of some 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are white last week, and boy did I get called names. I was called a racist amongst other things. To be honest I didn’t want to carry on writing about that subject on this column, but the interest and emotion that it seemed to provoke in people left me with no choice but to tackle the subject even further. The subject of race and economics, that is.

What I have come to realise is that it is almost impossible to address the issue of race without being labelled a racist. It does not matter how reasonable one is being on the subject – a clear sign that we have not healed as a nation and it will take some time before any healing takes place. We are divided, often along racial lines; where racial lines are closing class lines emerge. The topics that people have around their dinner tables and braai stands reinforce the “us and them” attitudes. Some politicians prefer it that way, keeping us divided because this gives them power over us. They tell us to fear those people, not to trust them, not in so many words but the clues are there.

I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwins biography on Lincoln, Team of Rivals. (Be warned, it’s a thick book, rivalling the Bible but remarkably shorter than Gaddaffi’s speech at the United Nations last year.) At a point when America was deeply divided over the slavery issue with the South refusing to free its slaves, Lincoln made his “A House Divided” speech during his Senatorial race (which he lost). In 1858, two years later he would be propelled to the presidency on an anti-slavery platform.

He said a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Incidentally Lincoln made that speech on June 16, albeit a different year, 1858.

A divided South Africa on the economic front cannot stand. Take a look at our neighbours up north – Zimbabwe. They were split racially and economically. A politician exploited the divisions. If the private sector does not mend the economic divisions, some politician will widen them. In the end the corporate world will lose what it thought it was protecting.

We find ourselves divided when it comes to the economic front. Some white people feel that they are being robbed of their right to make money. Others feel that they are no longer wanted nor needed in South Africa because of the colour of their skin. What they fail to understand is that there are black people who feel that this freedom is worthless because they still have nothing. They still see white people prosperous while they get poorer and poorer. Each side sees themselves as worse than the other. Each side paints itself as a greater victim than the other. Some scream reverse racism while others scream economic apartheid.

The truth is there are no victims. There are many who expect manna from heaven. There will be no such thing. People were on their own during apartheid, or if you wish, the desert years. There was no manna then, there will be none now. In the words of the great Steve Biko, “Black man, you are on your own”.

We have to make things happen for ourselves, study, work and above all, make a way where there is none; that is what every celebrated captain of industry has done. To borrow and to use his words as my own, White man, you are also on your own. South Africans, you are all on your own.

Taking individual responsibility is the only thing that will end these divisions. Entitlement will widen them. South Africans, you are on your own. If we are to be a great nation we have to realise that the path to greatness is not achieved through excuses.

*originally appeared on News24.com

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