Bio: Loves Africa. With all its complexities, its color and its noise. Her goal is to visit at least half of all African countries in this lifetime, north, east, south and west. Her work has appeared in O the Oprah Magazine, True Love, Move, Cleo, Cosmopolitan, House&Leisure, Clutchmagonline.com, Mimi Magazine and Marie Claire.

Posts by Luso Mnthali:

    This Year, Let’s Travel Africa More

    January 20th, 2014

    Let’s travel Africa a whole lot more—can we do that in 2014?

    If you’re on the continent this year, make sure you travel and do touristy things even if it’s in your own country. I live in one of the best places to travel—the country that has me wrapped around its little finger—South Africa. If you’re lucky enough to live here, you have your choice of experiences. Be it mountains, valleys, rivers, beaches or desert landscapes—this place has it all. I was lucky enough this holiday period to go to four different places in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape for a good bit of R&R. I got to swim in a mountain pool (no, no fire pool here either), wade in more rivers and streams than I can count, look at many many rocks, mountains, kloofs, bergs, vleis, koppies. I got to walk in a labyrinth among cedars, with just the sound of the leaves rustling above the stream we followed. I knew there were caves all around me, and thought about the ancestors who had lived there, and even left paintings on the walls. Precious art, our heritage that is beyond any treasure, in my opinion.

    At one point we realised that we were staying in two places with very similar names, so we decided to call the whole trip Matjiesvleifonteinkloofrivierpoortberg for all the valleys, mountains, rivers, canyons, passes, and waterfalls we’d seen. As we had driven through a few different regions, names like Griqua, Outeniqua, Hessequa popped up—names of different regions known for mountains and mountain passes. Gouna, Knysna—places in the famous Dalene Matthee books. Gamka, Goukou – rivers named by the San people (Gamka means lion). I felt so close to the people who lived in these places, who had ancestors from these places, and I knew at once that cities were much harder places, cruel places sometimes, but that country life as it stood at the moment was cruel in its own ways, too.

    There were stars, a wild donkey, frogs, cows, sheep, goats, chongololos (millipedes), horses, waterbuck, springbok, a deer, birds, bees, ants, flies, dragonflies, beetles that thumped their butts to communicate with each other (this was cute and creepy), dogs, (including the cutest little thing called Jock that took us on a hike into the hills above a river valley) and oh yeah, baboons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many animals and in so many places in such a short space of time. And I don’t consider myself a city slicker, but perhaps I lost my country/ village girl affinities long ago since the time I lived with my grandmother as a toddler. It was a lovely re-education and I am so grateful for it. People who come from farm and rural areas are fortunate to experience this for a much longer time.

    Of course there are lots of issues surrounding rural areas in South Africa, namely land rights, poverty, and not least, having basic needs met. You don’t forget that on holiday even here, but you realize that and hope that things can change. We did stay in a place where the white landowner is part of a community empowerment programme and decided to hire black farm and tourism managers. So everything we saw, from the cottage we stayed in, to the land itself, is managed by a black couple. They spoke only Afrikaans, which tested my knowledge of the language immensely, but we got along enough for Marta, Willem’s wife, to bake me the most exquisite loaf of bread I have devoured in a long time. I have just finished it now that I’m back in Cape Town and I’m a little morose about not being able to just go down the road to buy some more.  I’m also slightly upset that I’ve been hooked to a laptop as though it were my life force for much of the day. In the Baviaanskloof there was no such thing. For almost a week I had no real contact with outside news and people. It was marvelous.

    But there are places that need to be seen and experienced and not just one country can provide those experiences. I am jealous of my family and friends’ reports from Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tunisia and Ghana. Please can you stop talking about how great it was to go back to Zim? I miss that place! And Botswana too. Please Zambians, we know you guys have this other coolth, but stop bragging. Let’s not even talk about Tanzania and Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. We know these countries possess unique cultural and natural beauty. Can these folk who go please just pack me in their suitcases instead of making me jealous? Serious envy issues can only be dealt with by leaving on  a jet plane.

    When I initially started writing this piece I thought it would just be one of those that simply has a “do go and see your land!” exhortation. Well there is that, but in the same week it was floating around my brain,  the New York Times interactive article was published and it was telling the whole world to come see parts of Africa. If the whole world’s already been coming, and is likely to continue to come in droves, why can’t we as Africans also enjoy this place? And yes, Cape Town got a big boost by being at the number one spot there, but as you now know, the city is also a gateway to other parts of this incredible province, and close enough to some lovely parts of the Eastern Cape. It always gets top billing, and in many ways I am happy to live here, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to other parts of the country that have grabbed my fancy, and there are many. I have now been to all nine provinces, but have barely scratched what I want to see in the Eastern Cape. Tsitsikamma anyone? I mean geez, Eastern Cape, people!

    So, besides all the gorgeous global destinations (oh.my.word. Indonesia.) did you check out the other African destinations the NYT listed? I’ve also always wanted to go to the Seychelles, but it seemed a pricey place to get to. Dar es Salaam is definitely on my list, as is Namibia which I’ve just waved at from Augrabies  National Park on a trip to the Northern Cape some years ago. Who doesn’t want to go to Kenya if you’ve never been? And Addis Ababa—c’mon! You know you want to. I also get the feeling that our resident frequent flier, and founding editor Phiona, has been to all these places listed. So if you want to possess some Phi-cool, read up on these hotspots and get you to an airport for a passport stamping.

    It has to be said though, that some of the best of travel exists right in your own country (see above), where you are right now. There’s loads to do and see, from Cape to Cairo, from Brooklyn to Brixton, continentals and siasporans should be able to get here and indulge in the best that Africa offers. I know you all wanted to check out São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde and even the Comoros once you peeped that trending topic the other day—#africannationsinhighschool. Thanks to @siyandawrites starting this TT all of African Twitter got to see a little of what we know about each other, assume about each other, are curious about or what we  are actually just prejudiced about. These perceptions got people laughing, querying, and many times agreeing. But are they accurate? What are our fellow African countries really like? Best is to just go, right? First hand accounts. Facts only.

    There may have been reports of the worst countries for black people to travel but I didn’t see one African country, which is not to say it’s perfect out here! So if you do have some horror stories, do share them with us so we avoid some of the pitfalls of travelling on the continent. However, we do mostly want to know about the great and the good, the joys of African travel.  Journalist Lerato Mogoatlhe has a pretty interesting travel blog devoted to Africa,  in which she faithfully documents the realities of traveling around the continent. Meruschka at MzansiGirl.com  is also another African travel blogger you should pay attention to. I know there are more and more cropping up every year and this has become an exciting space for African travel. Make your here and your year unforgettable. We can’t always live in the “over there” trusting that we know about “them”. They are us and we are here. This no longer makes sense, remember, I am from Malawi! But no, I was never the school “provider”.

    Bon voyage and karibu when you get here!

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    Have the Nigerians Truly Arrived?

    November 14th, 2013

    (photo credit: Cuppy Music)

    This much buzzed-about article in the December issue of Tatler (UK), is titled “The Nigerians Have Arrived”, and the first thing I want to point out is that they have always been there. Conspicuous wealth always seems to puzzle, fascinate and concurrently dismay most people. If you are not rich, (most of ‘us’) you always wonder how someone else arrived at that destination (very few of ‘them’). We tend to be most dismayed at those who land government contracts and thereafter massive wealth through opaque dealings. However, in a country as rich in mineral wealth as Nigeria, and poor in resource management and wealth distribution, this is a whole nother kettle of crayfish.

    As I am not familiar with Nigeria’s jet set (unless the Nollywood set counts, and I have my doubts that they do) I was surprised to actually place one of their faces. For those elsewhere in Africa who have watched enough Africa Magic and Studio 54 red carpet interviews, Eku Edewor, one of the twins featured in the Tatler piece, is a familiar face. To Nigerians I am sure she’s not a surprise either. Most folk follow the exploits of the rich and famous of Nigeria through the various lush offerings at Bella Naija and the Linda Ikeji blog. So the response to the British rag, with its very specific readership, is a new turn for both Nigerian readers and the Tatler set.

    The beauty, shiny well-managed tresses, health and good fortune bouncing like laser light to and from the corners of my screen as I gaze upon the faces of young and super rich Nigeria is enough to give me a good dose of envy. Only because my entire annual dress and shoe budget is equal to what they spend on one pair of Louboutins, if even that. To them that’s chump change, they have racks of the stuff, and actually know how to pronounce the iconic French shoe designer’s name. In many ways, that kind of spending and that kind of ostentation is obscene. And what of the seriously rich in this Tatler article? Haven’t there always been wealthy Africans through the ages? This is not a new thing, but combine it with centuries of colonialism, exploitation and under-development many are suspicious of it. What makes these folk different? Why must I presume to know anything more about them than that they are seriously moneyed Africans? Why shouldn’t young Nigerians be wealthy? Is it all wealth from ill-gotten gains? I know a few people who are members of what they call “royalty” in Europe who have lived up the champagne and caviar lifestyle on the back of slavery, colonialism and the continuing plunder and disruption of the African continent . I could care not one single jot about them except as members of a deluded class of wealthy who are wrongly upheld as arbiters of good taste and “breeding”, and that they are presumed to be a different class of people, better people, than everyone else. To put it very kindly, and as we say in South Africa – they must never.

    When I see super-rich Africans I sometimes think that they will be the most judged super-rich on the planet – simply because they are black or brown. White riches are never questioned to this extent. I live in one of the most fabulously rich cities on the continent, if not the world. In Cape Town the disparity in wealth and income between blacks and whites is glaring. Yet not many question why this is so – it is simply accepted as a matter of course in some circles. “Of course whites here are wealthy,” many say or seem to think, and act in ways that reinforce this, “of course! They deserve it and have worked hard for it!” Bullshit. They have stolen, plundered, pillaged, raped and murdered to get where they are. Yet it’s always a puzzle when black folk display similar riches.  If sometimes it is revealed the riches have been obtained in similar ways, the black folk are judged much harsher. Thou Shalt Not Plunder Your Own Continent Black Man, it’s a morally bankrupt thing to do.

    A young white Afrikaner woman I knew when I was in law school in Pretoria would point out black people in nice cars and say “see they were given tenders. See they drive around in those cars because they’re corrupt.” Likely because of the person’s own history of subjugation and  thievery she thought most black people who had anything valuable had stolen it or were corrupt. Silly me, it took a while to understand that she felt she shouldn’t be driving her skorokoro of a car, that she was glad I was walking or taking the bus. I think this is why black rich people act the way they do – they want to feel free from the constraints of such common bigotry. They want to enjoy what the white student, the ou baas, the mine manager or the head of some foreign bank has told Africans for centuries was not theirs to enjoy. We can psychologize all we want, it still doesn’t make it right when vast amounts of a country’s wealth are being used as an “in your face” and to flounce around London as if you’re now going to be seen as someone’s equal. They laugh at us. Too many of us are living in poverty so why should they take any of us seriously? There is never a good time to swan about and say “we’ve been having it” when your country is in the state it’s in.

    What amuses me is how much of Britain has rubbed off on these young Nigerian rich. Florence “Cuppy” Otedola (pictured above) seems to have one of those nicknames only PG Wodehouse would have let you in on as a joke in many a farce of his. “I say, Jeeves old chum. It rather behoves one to watch out for Cuppy and Trixie, her rather forceful mother. I hear hijinks abound in that chest of gold.” And then you’d have to make connections about their connexions and try to understand what “up at Eton” means. It’s all too British -  elevenses and supper at four o’clock. Except in Michelle Obama’s favourite Thai and Nigerian dress designers.

    Let’s not put up with shenanigans. I absolutely abhor spending oil wealth on property abroad – especially in the colonial capital instead of on Nigeria’s infrastructure, health care and education. Come on Madame Alakija – are you seriossss? Richest black woman in the world  and all you can do is throw around on stupid properties in London? Which is why these oyinbo dey laff. Is a shame o! If you are a rich Nigerian you do have an obligation, nay madam, a duty – to Nigeria and what becomes of it. Stop faffing around, swanning in “couture” and cut some real cloth – design the fabric of a new society that will make sure Nigerians have a chance, and will be the true face of African wealth – for decades and centuries to come. Develop this your land! Stop being just merely rich, and become truly wealthy. Garish houses and ostentatious displays of wealth are not uncommon or unheard of in Nigeria, and many ordinary folk do complain, and wonder why the corruption and greed is a staple of Nigerian life. If only someone could raise up a magic wand and change things. If only wishes were polo horses and weddings in Paris.

    On an end note, I’ve read many comments and opinions about this Tatler article, and have discerned just how much most Nigerians are finding a lot of things that go on in their country so hard to swallow. The champagne lifestyles are the norm for a very small percentage of much of the continent, and we all suffer for it, but the poor most of all. It’s not that we lack brilliant people, capable people, educated people. I believe that there is something rotten to the core that’s been left to fester on this continent, and in places like Nigeria in particular. Speaking to a Zimbabwean friend recently, I was struck by how people there understood greed and corruption so well, to the extent that a common term came into use – huwori. Loosely, this means being corrupt, but it’s actually more of being rotten to the core, deep inside a human being. I think Nigerians who have champagne and jet lifestyles on the back of ill-gotten gains suffer from huwori. And if they’re this rich and not developing Nigeria, that is huwori also.

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    Get up on ‘Akayida’, Ghana’s Post-Azonto Craze

    November 4th, 2013

    You know it’s not too late to learn the Azonto dance right? If it’s a case of two left feet, a new slightly easier spin-off of the Ghanaian dance sensation is here in the form of Akayida. Please remember it is just in jest and is just a dance! Africans love to make fun of even the most serious of things, hence why in Malawi you can find bin ladens – a type of thick bun. But back to Ghana – and a new hit in the form of hip-life rapper Guru’s Akayida (Boys Abre).

    The video has the dance moves, the car and the comedy from Kwadwo Nkansah, also known as Lil WIn. Best of all it’s a hot song.

    H/T Maya the Poet

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    Why Do South African Government Officials Love Beyoncé So Much?

    October 3rd, 2013

    (Photo credit: Robin Harper)

    Beyoncé is big. Huge. She’s like the Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman huge. She’s so big, every time we in South Africa have a celebration, be it sports awards or twenty (20!!!!) years of democracy – her name is bandied about as a possible headliner for an event. This year’s Beyoncé sighting once gain set tongues wagging in the media, got artists trés upset and Twitter headz in a dither. The heart of the matter was a rumour going around that the Tshwane (SA capital city) council  was willing to spend 35 million Randelas on getting Beyoncé to perform here next year as part of twenty years of democracy celebrations. The usual “why not spend it on local artists?” started doing the rounds. Why not…wah wah wah. It’s the same story every year it seems. The public hears of an event willing to attract major acts, sees the word “international” and immediately the hive mind flies to “Beyoncé in Las vegas”.

    Talk Radio 702′s John Robbie cleared up the confusion and found out from the Mayor of Tshwane, Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, that this was not going to be the case at next year’s proposed Dinokeng Festival to be held in Cullinan, an area east of the country’s capital. The festival is apparently to be modeled on the UK’s Glastonbury Festival. According to Ramokgopa, Beyoncé headlining this festival is just a malicious rumour which was initially seen in a Beeld (Afrikaans-language newspaper) article which mentioned her and D’Banj as proposed acts.

    According to the mayor it’s preposterous to suggest that they were willing to spend that kind of money on a Beyoncé show when the initiative was from a desire to invest in that area, and revitalize its economy. What’s clear is that South Africans are never surprised when money is wasted or thrown around as though it isn’t a country with high unemployment and poverty statistics. The profligacy of certain among the public sector has been well noted and documented. A Beyoncé craving even in government is symptomatic of the rot that has set in. So is this rumour wholly unfounded? Can we even blame the rumour-mongers for even daring to start it in the first place, if indeed it is just that? After Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile ‘Razzmatazz’ Mbalula created controversy last year for allegedly wanting to bring Beyoncé to perform at a sports awards show, we can’t say we blame them. This is the same Beyoncé who can charge $2 million per hour for private performances for the sons of controversial figures. Ja neh…

    What’s  also certain is that the country’s musicians need, as suggested to artist Thandiswa Mazwai by author and playwright Zakes Mda, is to unionize, and have a strong union at that. This thing of being treated as second-class citizens in the country they love and live for, and make art for, is just ridic. You have to be more clever about this, coz every year y’all are out here feeling disrespected and it’s not on. Be more clever during the people! We’re also looking at the folk who acted like reaching for Glastonbury-like  festivals could never be in the purview or potentiality of any (black) South African concert promoters – dude, it will, like, take time, but like, it can happen. Yes we can, bru, yes we can! But just not with the taxpayer’s money, I’m guessing.

    This palaver is not something the country’s artists should continue to just watch unfold year after year, as they are tossed over for the ‘big’ names in black music. If you’re looking for deep as the ocean blue, strong and true, how about sipping from the soul-drenched wells of culture from the Simphiwe Dana’s, the Thandiswa Mazwai’s, the Zahara’s et cetera, the you name it we’ve got it right here eMzansi. Unless, as Thandiswa Mazwai tweeted, you are bringing home the new Nina Simone’s, the new Stevie Wonder’s, you’re not bringing us the revolutionaries. And if you’re going to celebrate 20 years of democracy (or not!) what is more amazing than to celebrate by seeing yourself in your own artists right here, who are part of a proud cultural heritage? Most of the time we’re told to think American artists are better or worth more than our own. For a country of revolutionaries, this is some pretty middling, conformist isht. Are you going to pay these your artists similar amounts? Are you going to treat them well? It’s just plain wrong to do this to our beloved and talented artists and give them that famous presidential middle finger while you’re at it. Love me some Bey but not giving our artists equal respect is unacceptable!

     

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    Chimamanda Adichie Caine Prize Controversy Reveals Sexist Roots

    July 31st, 2013

    You have to have a very thick skin to be a writer. Even more so when you’re beautiful, flawless skin owner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whom I will henceforth address as CA, as is the norm among writers of great reputation). Not everyone is going to say nice things, and nor should they, but what happened with all the mudslinging in the recent literary feud between CA and proponents of the Caine Prize left a very unpleasant bitter taste in my mouth.

    In an interview with Salon’s Aaron Bady, CA talked about many things, including her new book Americanah, race, the black immigrant experience, and hair. It was all going swimmingly until mention of the Caine Prize, for which CA herself was shortlisted in 2002 (the winner this year is Tope Folarin). At some point she said she hadn’t read any of the stories this year, and wasn’t going to. That might have fluffed a few feathers, but what really got people riled up is her saying “I don’t go to the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction,” and that instead she goes to her mailbox. The initial misquoting of that particular part of the interview fueled the feud, and as Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma points out, there is a difference between her truth, and what other people see as the truth. The entire paragraph after that still shows a kind of pride in being Nigerian, and the truth of the Nigerians’ place on that shortlist. There is something about CA that won’t let truths die, and even the most absurd truths find a place and a voice. That’s the quality I think the rest of us in Africa admire about Nigerians in general. Perhaps this is what she’s guilty of?

    What seemed to really get the male writers going was that she did not know or seem to care to know the names of the shortlisted writers, and also called one among them “one of my boys in my workshop.” That’s when the cocoyam split. Apparently she had “infantilized” grown men.

    I really thought there was more than a hint of sexism in the fact that one of the men who was selected for the Caine Prize shortlist found it so objectionable that he swore at her publicly. She didn’t mention his name, but it was enough for him to swear at her. He painted her as a “queen god-mother,” whom lesser known writers would need to look to for guidance or even a wave from a distance. That seems to be the heart of his pain and annoyance. That even though he and others might want her acknowledgement, for her to even suggest she wouldn’t give it under those circumstances was a real slap in the face.

    Elnathan John’s response was at least slightly more mature and witty, but in some measure it still reeked of the same kind of sexism you find when men want to dress down a woman. Granted this feud could extend way beyond what the public knows, and the attacks on CA have revealed. Even though you could tell he was hurt, he didn’t go to the extent of using curse words. But he, um, talked of cocoyams and manhood-shrinking. Abeg, but this is too much o. Male egos easily bruised. How quickly many men were to try to jump down her throat when it came to what she had said in the interview. I always thought “one of my boys” was a term of endearment, but I could be wrong. Apparently it is “manhood-shrinking.” When a man says it, we should assume camaraderie and a level of intimacy that is achieved by really knowing someone, hanging out with them, writing or workshopping with them or sharing ideas and asking for advice. I guess for a woman it’s a very different thing to say. CA – girrrrl, you opened you a can of worms. I guess you can’t say “that’s my boy” about any of your friends, (including the boyish and cheeky man Binyavanga) because someone will suspect that you’re infantilizing grown men. If you said “my man so-and-so” that would also raise other questions. What’s a woman to do?

    Perhaps this sort of camaraderie isn’t reserved for men and women. A woman (how dare she!) isn’t supposed to say the things she said. If a man had said it,  no-one would bat an eyelid. They’d just say “Oh, big man! Handsome man. So he doesn’t really care for the Caine Prize? Hm. I wonder why.” The discussion might have gone a different way. Which leads me to my other point. That a man being assertive or having an opinion is given more value in society than a woman doing a similar thing. Because isn’t this her opinion of the Caine Prize, and isn’t she allowed to have it?

    The recent crop of African female writers are generally representing African womanhood in a light that we have not always seen, and perhaps are making some people uncomfortable. It’s a discomfort that almost yearns to put someone right back in their place, where-ever that place is supposed to be.  I don’t think the issue is with CA. Truly, among the pigeons in a flock there are always some who aren’t as oil-sheened as the rest. Part of the issue is that Adichie is the natural successor of Achebe’s legacy, and that she’s a woman. She has been quoted many times as being in awe of him, and being greatly inspired by him. Yet you’ll still find someone writing a comment that she “distanced” herself from him and is too “arrogant” or “insufferable”. So how does her “boy” give her a comeuppance? He sexualizes her, and trivializes what she’s actually saying about the prize he might have won. What stands out most, more than her legitimate thoughts about the prize, is that she once called him her “boy” in an interview. She can’t win o! However the interview began, and whatever she said about a number of other things, what stands out to the writers she apparently dissed is that she was promoting her workshop above promoting her friend (or former friend) or a prize she does not really care for, even one she was once shortlisted for. And for that, others thought she should be truly sorry. Na wa o.

    6 Comments "

    The Curious Case of a Kenyan Cafe & “The Croissant Incident”

    June 20th, 2013

    When I was young, my family would take road trips from Botswana to Zimbabwe. The colonial aspects to hospitality back then were still at peak season, so when we sat in a near-empty dining room one morning at a restaurant near the Vumba Mountains, my parents were not surprised at what transpired. To his credit, my father calmly handled the situation of being ignored while the white people who came in after us got served immediately. When the waiter finally sauntered over to us with an annoyed look on his face, we expected my father to give him a thorough dressing down. My father did nothing of the sort. He greeted the waiter cordially, in that respectful Shona of his that can put anyone to shame. Immediately this waiter realized the wrong he had done and did everything he could to make us feel comfortable and happy, and the meal and the service eventually won us over. I am certain my father did that to teach us patience and also politeness even in the face of extreme rudeness, but somehow it never really worked on me. I am not that polite or patient.

    I’ve sometimes thought back on that episode when I have had to confront poor service in the hotels and restaurants I’ve eaten in. I admit I have not been nearly as gracious as my father was when somebody has treated me less than I deserve. All I ask is you treat me like everybody else who sets foot in your establishment. If you uniformly treat your customers badly, then at least I know you won’t be in business for long, so we won’t even mention you. But if you have a good reputation, and it is only based on The White Report, meaning The Black Clientele does not even count, although they lead white foreigners and local wazungu to your doors, then you, my friends, are going to get shock-waved.

    The most recent example of this shock wave treatment is a coffee shop and bakery in Nairobi called Art Caffe, which apparently has an Israeli owner. According to reports a Kenyan man went in to the trendy place to purchase croissants one morning and was told that he wanted too many, and that he could not take eight croissants as a black person. From many accounts it seems that the bakery needed to keep some for the wazungu clientele. The Chinese whispers known as Twitter soon erupted, with the middle class black #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) vociferously stating their displeasure. Some activist hashtags like #BoycottArtCaffe, #OccupyArtCaffe and #RacistArtCafe were soon in place, with many people asking Kenyans and allies to boycott the place until its treatment of black customers changed. Activist Zawadi Nyong’o had this to say:

     

     

    Some places cashed in on Art Caffe’s spate of bad PR with some smart marketing:

     

    A closed Facebook group called Kenyans Boycott Against Racist Art Caffe Management has been started, with hundreds of members. A step in the right direction? Maybe. As a person who once started a campaign to boycott a well-known South African supermarket chain selling a product with racist labelling, I understand the sentiment but know that many a time it falls on deaf ears especially when you’re outnumbered. In the case of the Kenyan coffee shop, the numbers are in the Kenyans’ favour. Some just made fun of the brouhaha and the frothy anger with which middle class Kenyans had taken to Facebook and Twitter streets. Some, like Lynette Mukami, are asking why when people had already heard about the tendencies in such places, did they still go there?

    “The Art Caffe incident while speaking volumes about the preferential treatment given to white clientele over black ones in certain establishments (because of the perception that white customers are more moneyed and will likely tip more), the more surprising thing that stands out for me is, why do middle class Kenyans keep going back despite reported incidents of racism?”

    “It surprises me that even though we have experienced this racism in particular establishments, we keep going back rather than seek other restaurants or coffee houses. Why? Perhaps because we must be seen to be doing well and being able to go to a pricey establishment like the Art Caffe (in spite of previous negative experiences) regularly affords us that perception.”

    Jerusha Naidoo, a South African of Indian descent who moved to Cape Town from another part of the country, said that she gets uniformly bad treatment wherever she goes in Cape Town. “If they are White, Black or Coloured South Africans serving me at a restaurant here, they tend to rush through the orders, hardly ever mention the specials, treat me like I have a cloak of invisibility and get my order wrong be it for a simple drink or the entire meal. Hence I don’t enjoy going out if I go out to eat in Cape Town.”

    She only cites one restaurant where she regularly goes and consistently gets good service. “I always receive the best service if my waitron is from Zim, DRC or elsewhere. I think they take greater care. Maybe because of the language difference, but mostly because I think they understand that if they do not provide good service, they will not receive a good tip.”

    For more context on the Art Caffe incident, a look on Trip Advisor is revealing. One review from December says: “Great food, European atmosphere, but often too crowded and hot inside. The local crowd does not eat at Art Cafe much, mainly expatriates. Israeli owned.” European atmosphere?

    What do you think readers? Are we as Africans too soft on the businesses that constantly insult and mistreat us? Do we think by continuing to go there and give them business they will somehow miraculously change or must we take stronger stances since a soft approach doesn’t seem to work? What are your experiences of customer service in eateries that are frequented by non-black clientele in countries where the majority is black?

    6 Comments "

    When Dali Tambo Touched South African Journos (and others) on Their Studios

    June 7th, 2013

    So by now you’ve probably heard about the People of the South episode on South African public television, namely SABC3, in which one Robert Gabriel Mugabe, current president of Zimbabwe (1980 – ?) and a certain handlebar mustachioed television presenter/ son of liberation hero who has a busy airport named after him, sat down to talk about making love, politics, and dancing, amongst other things.

    The interview was the usual Tambo fluff piece: cuddly, sometimes (very few times) cutting and filled with dance scenes and pillow handovers at the very end. Kind of like Nigeria’s Jara, but not as funny, or with as young and good-looking presenters. People of the South is precisely that, a programme about people mostly of Southern African, if not South African, descent. Tambo has had pretty much everybody who’s anybody on the show. I’ve seen him break bread with Jacob Zuma (the South African president’s misogyny and battle-softened demeanour notwithstanding), with friend to Zuma the entrepreneur Vivian Reddy (whose actress wife could not dodge the tough questions about her skin whitening endorsements) and also the likes of SA pop music’s version of Robin Thicke, Danny K. (Except not as sexy).

    When Tambo asked Mugabe if he was politically aware even at a young age, which was characterised as a time when he was cattle herding, with a whip in one hand and perhaps a small book of poetry under his arm, Mugabe replied that he had “just an awareness that the white man had come and robbed us of that which was ours, our land…”

    He went into detail about who his friends were (South African freedom fighter Duma Nokwe, to name one), what he liked to do as a young boy (reading), how the Fort Hare students (a predominantly male student body) would attend dances with the women “across the river” at the nursing school. As someone who doesn’t only like to read history in a textbook or a stuffy tome, here was someone who, at 89, could tell us about those days, and about the similar experiences of a number of Africa’s leaders, so I was quite happy to watch and hear what he had to say.

    What the interview did, which was only the first part of what many have now come to see as a professional coup for Dali Tambo, was humanize Mugabe yes, but it allowed us to make our own minds up about the man. I agreed with Tambo, if you haven’t met someone you would be hard pressed to really paint a picture of a person without having done so. Yet here we had all these ideas about what kind of man Mugabe must be. Based on what? As a person with very close ties to Zimbabwe, (my father was born there, my perhaps 100-year-old grandma still lives there) I still didn’t have a clear emotion about him. You read the reports, the newspapers have lurid headlines, yet people tell you varying stories, with varying degrees of negativity and positivity. The last time I was in Zim was 10 years ago, so I don’t have a clear picture, granted. But I have people on the ground to tell me whether, how and if they’re suffering.

    In the interview you got to know the man behind the headlines, behind the sound-bites from 30 years ago. Here was the scoop that every journalist worth their salt has wanted to secure, and Tambo did that. Here was the scoop that people like Redi Tlhabi of Talk Radio 702 openly declared they were professionally jealous of, and congratulated Tambo on the achievement, which was a scoop three years in the making.

    Roundly criticized for his handling of the two-and-a-half hour interview, which had to be whittled down to less than an hour, Tambo defended his position on a couple of radio interviews. He talked to members of the South African media who had differing views of how he handled the show. Tlhabi talked to Tambo on her show, and expressed how she thought he’d handled the interview the same as he has in the past with different guests, and how it was strange that people were questioning Tambo about it. Her colleague at the same radio station seemed to want something different from Tambo, and said he should have brought up human rights abuses documented in a UN report. Here is how the continuation of this unforgettable media moment went down:

    Dali’s perfect English accent seems to slip in that particular entanglement, and he reminds me of one of my best friends from Uganda when he is imitating an African parent scolding a naughty child. There are people out there who clearly want to equate Mugabe with Hitler, and, yes, the copycat facial hair really doesn’t help matters, but in all honesty the numbers tell their own story. You can’t defend someone’s wrongdoing, but I for one still want to hear what they have to say for themselves. For me Zimbabwe is too important a country, and has too important a history that I would not pay attention to one of its central figures, even when that figure is a divisive one and certainly has made some unpalatable decisions. I want to know the motivations, the man behind the headlines. And so, with Dali Tambo’s interview, we did.

    Whatever you think of Robert Mugabe, or Dali Tambo for that matter, it was a refreshing interview, and one that many journalists are doubtless kicking themselves for never having the guts or the genealogy to secure the interview. Come on, Mugabe did this interview because uDali was a comrade and friend’s kid, and would cut him some slack. Yes, I said it. The insights, the quirks, the history (albeit slightly one-sided) and the humanizing of this figure of African politics made it a must-watch event. What was clear to some of us in the fallout since the interview is that there seems to be an unspoken diktat when it comes to freedom of expression in the media. It’s okay only when some people are criticized and not others, and we are never to hear anything positive, or get a rounded view of other complex human beings. They must remain the caricatures that some members of the media have worked hard to create. Well, I never, as they say in the English queen’s accent.

    The second part of the interview is to be aired this coming Sunday June 9th, and it will involve the Mugabe family sitting down together at lunch with Dali. It will certainly be another must-watch television event. There will be protests, stomping of Ferragamo-clad feet, wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth and wailing from (most-often) white liberals who were not this vocal when living in Lala Phantsi Land and the Cloud Cuckooland that was the days of the Apartheid regime. Oh they were suppressed, you say? Censored? Well, welcome to liberation then. Here we don’t tell journalists what they can and cannot do during an interview they secured. Sit down and watch an interview with Robert Gabriel Mugabe on South African public television, make up your own mind about whether he is a despot, dictator or darling of Africans and someone many won’t deny admiring or taking pride in. Welcome, and may you be just as vocal when the J Arthur Browns, and other billion-rand-stealing “white collar” criminals are getting slaps on the wrist or just plain walking for crimes against many thousands (including orphans) in this your South Africa. What? I can’t hear anything.

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    An Army of Girlfriends to Fight Kenny Kunene's War on Women

    April 23rd, 2013

    Kenny Kunene, the erstwhile South African nightlife impresario and so-called sushi king, recently appeared on a national television talk show with five of his 15 girlfriends to talk about “loving more than one person.” In her typical way, 3Talk anchor Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu asked no particularly hard-hitting questions about his chosen lifestyle. What she ended up doing was asking the women such nuanced gems such as “Do your parents know you’re here?” and “Do you all get along?”

    I wanted to reach into that screen and fold the question back into her mouth and have her turn to Kenny and ask him if he’s proud of himself and if his family know and approve of what he’s become. Typically for the culture we live in, it’s the women who seemed to be made to look foolish about their choices. Understandably it’s a matter of degrees, both in terms of maturity and levels of education. They’re not educated yet in the ways of predatory, vampiric men (to borrow a phrase from the well-written opinion piece by Pumla Gqola) What Kunene and men like him seem invested in is the luring and exploitation of young women, with obvious physical charms and a willingness to entertain them sexually. They even recruit for him, and he calls them his “army”. Yes, an army.

    What it is they’re fighting is unclear but he seems like a formidable opponent, and has an answer for every situation you place in front of him. He’s quite cunning and smart, and he has no shame. He says he has a big heart but it’s not so much about that part of his anatomy and its size, than the fact that he is sexually voracious. He, like many men of dubious means the world over, want to stage their virility and worth via the women on their arm. He would need fifteen or more arms, like some sort of lapsed deity, to be able to escort

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    all the women he is currently sleeping with. What most in the media (who have reluctantly given him space) agree on is that he seeks attention and like some sort of an adolescent plays up to the most base parts of himself, and acts it all out for a crowd, whatever the size, and whether they want him there or not.

    On the show, where he claimed he was “being honest” about his army of girlfriends/sex partners/accessories, no panelist even came close to berating him for the kind of lifestyle he leads. This in a country with HIV statistics that are not improving, and the killing, raping and battering of females is an every day event, be they 2 or 92 years old. It seems, judging from  the panel of one psychologist, one columnist and one magazine editor, that our most educated and vocal citizens are helpless even in the face of outrageous misogyny. That they will not stand up to rich men like Kunene and deem him an undesirable, uncouth and wholly misguided miscreant. Instead we had the female talk show host pander to Kunene’s views, his “honesty” and basically direct the conversation to what he himself most wanted to talk about. He said that he used condoms and that “these girls” know that he is “clean”. The talk show host made the mistake of calling it an open relationship – it is not. Polyamory or the practice of an open relationship is when all partners are free to choose other lovers, besides their primary relationship. There doesn’t seem to be a primary relationship in the Kunene household, and he is basically in control. What he did say was if any one of the women were to pursue another relationship or liaison outside of his arrangement with her, she would be free to go. “If you feel you want to settle down with someone else who’s lied properly to you, tell me,” he said. He will not brook anyone sleeping with the women he “owns”.

    One of the women’s stories—I forget whether it was Desiree, Claudia, Pam or Crystal—centered on how she’d been cheated on by her previous boyfriend, and how the experience had basically scarred her, and changed her trust in men. My question was this: So she got into a transactional sex deal with a man with many other women on his plate, to make that a better experience for her? Clearly in a country where women are not thought much of, it tends to be difficult for them to think much of themselves.

    Kunene preys on women no older than 24 years old for the particularly galling fact that at this stage you’re a woman, but to be honest you’re still to fully develop. These are crucial years for personality and independence to be established, and he finds that women at this stage in their development are still rather impressionable. They haven’t had the wisdom of life experience, so that it’s easy to lure them with money and the type of lifestyle where they can imagine themselves becoming models, actresses, business women etc. In a country where many children are raising themselves and their siblings, the lure of a quick fix and a step towards the TV lifestyle that so many youth try to emulate, is a hard one to resist. But some of these young women didn’t all come from motherless or fatherless backgrounds. It’s part of the culture – the allure of glamour and easy money. Sex is easy, love is hard. So in some ways I don’t blame them. I blame the society for cheapening experience, for making the quick fix glamorous and the way to your goals, and fame, any sort of fame or infamy, the real purpose for existing. It is not a society where honest and hard work is often applauded. If the president himself abuses trust and has many women, what message does that send?

    “In some ways I don’t blame them. I blame the society for cheapening experience, for making the quick fix glamorous and the way to your goals.”

    A man like this is an irresponsible, disreputable menace and as much as I have hated to write this piece, and indeed it caused me a measure of emotional pain to even give him attention, I felt it was necessary to just call him out on his bullshit lifestyle, because that’s what it is. Make no mistake.

    Shortly after the talk show aired, Kunene sent some recruitment tweets. The sickening thing is that people retweeted and responded as though this was some sort of legitimate and worthy opportunity.

    The Recruitment: “Ladies pls send Ur close face,full body n bikini pics,age,what U do in life,where U stay(anywhere in da world) to; kenny.myarmy@gmail.com,” tweeted Kunene.

    Response: “GOT 52 EMAILS already…. thank U ladies I’ll respond in due course….this ARMY is gonna take over…” he later added.

    UPDATE
    Not entirely satisfied with his recent performance on TV, apparently one of his exes says he talks a good game, but he doesn’t actually know his way around the bedroom.

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    21 Writers You Should Know

    January 16th, 2013

    These are the women you need to read. This list of writers we feel you should get to know is by no what is viagra soft tabs means exhaustive, but is made up of authors we feel represent best the diversity of some

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    of the women of African descent who have taken up their pens and given us fresh perspectives.

    This time around, it’s woman-centred. The women on this list have written about diverse subjects, from polygamy in Nigeria to crime in a community in the American South. They include poets, fiction writers a

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    nd memoirists. Most have published books and we eagerly await the published work of others. We look at this list as an introduction to some emerging

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    voices and also a post that simply serves to give a grateful and loving nod to those whose work is already established.

    We admit there is a bias towards the Anglophone writers, so if you know of Lusophone and Francophone writers we have not included, but should, do let us know in the c-section!

    May you find many a kindred spirit among these writers. Happy reading!

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    Rick Ross, Solange Knowles and the Poverty Porn Dissenters

    October 5th, 2012

    (photo credit: Nigeria Films)
    So now that Solange has done her bit for what some might call poverty porn, I have to add

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    my two cents.

    In the interests of research, I had to endure some three minutes of Rick Ross’s Hold Me Back (Nigeria) video, filmed in Sura market in Obalende, an impoverished part of Lagos, and intended to draw parallel to the original version of the song.

    Now, I have a very low tolerance for what I call the NBH affliction – that tendency to repetitively, easily and with much ebullience say the words “nigga” “bitch” and “ho”. Rick Ross’ level of NBH is so potent that three minutes into his six minute video I had to just breathe and stop. For real.

    On balance, it appears Rick Ross’ new video is very much a creation of how he sees the world in general. The New Orleans version is by no means about any kind of glamour either. It’s about the ‘real’ New Orleans or how he sees Nola, to borrow the affectionate term for a place I’ve never been to.

    When someone looks at a place, he is bringing his heart and his experience to it, for whatever reasons. Rick Ross did the same thing. His experience with the Africa we don’t want the world to see if we’re screaming ‘poverty porn!’ and whatever else, is something he actually experienced first hand, which says more for him than those who tend to be on the opposing side of things. Not to say that his experience even equals the kind of poverty porn peddled by the likes of George Clooney et al, but that he actually knows what it looks like from his own life and experiences in his own country. It’s not to excuse his own peddling of some of the images I saw, which were heart-wrenching. (Tossing money to kids??)

    Not sure about this move by Bwana Ross, but at least he’s not coming from a vacuum.

    Solange Knowles recently dropped her own made-in-Africa video for the lovely song Losing You. Which only made some ask why she magpied two different experiences from Africa. If the Rick Ross video feels too raw, the Solange video feels too soft. Except for the imported glamour or imported aspirational glamour of Les Sapeurs, that really is how townships in South Africa, in Cape Town in particular, can look. But the video feels softer, and without the glaring, staring edges that I’ve experienced when in Gugulethu.

    Perhaps I’ve over-thought this, and not come to the realization that yes, even townships have soft edges. More fool me. And when we talk about poverty porn? Puh-lease. I might ruffle a few feathers when I declare that even South Africans participate in it right on their own doorstep. There are those whites who go to Mzoli’s in Gugs (affectionate name for Gugulethu) and will plead with a cameramen recording a stint for German TV that they “don’t usually” go there. So if you’re slumming it, what does that make what you’re doing? All those ‘township tours’ on offer in Soweto and in Cape Town’s townships. What are we, as foreigners, or people from Gauteng and other parts of the country, doing there jolling if we aren’t actually from and of the townships? We’re slumming it and being hipster cool about our knowledge of the hip, ‘business’ parts of the townships. And our friends who live there? We’ve never been to their homes, trust. And if we have, we were scared. Admit it. When my classmates in law school would talk about Soshanguve, Mabopane and Mamelodi my eyes glazed over. They might as well have been talking about different countries. And that is precisely what townships were meant to be. A person living in Higgovale is in a different country of circumstance from one living in Gugs, Philippi or Khayelitsha. They’re all Cape Town, but many different Cape Towns. And that is the problem with us Africans screaming blue murder when other people come take a look-see and make their art here, whatever the merits or lack thereof.

    I think both these videos, at least to me, raise some questions about not just aesthetics, but also our interactions with our brothers and sisters not just across the ocean, but right here at home. When folk in the Diaspora choose to shoot videos in two of the powerhouses of

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    Africa but lift elements of this Africa that we the privileged are not too keen on, what are we saying? Some articles have asked similar questions about the Rick Ross video, and I’m appreciative of them. Some commented on a possible lack of originality in the Solange Knowles one, while others just talked about the aesthetics of her Cape Town love affair. Either way, the soft focus and certain features of Solange’s video made me think ‘Cape Town but not really Cape Town’. The kids, the barber and the seated gogos (grannies) made me think oh there it is, the place I know. Her entourage were all hipster kids, and that’s fine too. The poverty in question? Well, it’s pretty much in evidence by location, but not a constant slamming in your face which Rick Ross does with his effort.

    Obviously, I have no love for him, but oodles of love for her. I guess this makes me bourgie and girly in my sensibilities, or simply closed off to the realities of a country I’ve never been to. I still have Nollywood only in my head.

    And yes, King Tha, I totally agree with you – when do we say when Africa is cool, why should those who aren’t born here tell us through their art? And what is it we’re buying, if we are?


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    Mandela's Dream: Fact or Fantasy?

    July 18th, 2012

    It is Nelson Rolihlala Mandela's 94th birthday today, and as the day winds down, and I can hear the white South Africans next door enjoying their dinner whilst sitting by their swimming pool, I have to wonder about his legacy.

    Mandela is undoubtedly a great man, and has lived a life worthy of several movies, and a few have been made. Today I had to search for a number of books about the great man and what I have always known was once again made clear. Most of the books written about Mandela are by white people. Most of the people in South Africa who constantly talk about him so fondly are white people. He's like their god, or, as a BFF once said, “They've passed him for honorary white.” At least this has been my experience. I am not alone in thinking this. I think, almost like the Rev Martin Luther King, Mandela had a dream. He dreamed that his little great-grandchildren could live in a non-racial society, and he dreamed of a place that many could call the 'Rainbow Nation'. Yet it still remains a dream as racism is still rampant, black folk are still the poorest and live in horrid conditions. People do get along in pockets, but I struggle to find this Rainbow Nation concept, and I believe it still remains a fantasy not a fact. White folk seem to have been forgiven rather quickly, without doing the hard work necessary for true reconciliation. Without, sometimes, real remorse.

    The number one trending topic on SA Twitter streets on his 94th birthday was #HowMandelaSoldUsOut. This was a response to the anonymously written article that appeared on a well-known South African news site. To be honest, a few history lessons would clear up the confusion, because some compromise had to be made. But there are people who feel Mandela's ANC sold the people down the river. And when we say people, we aint talkin white folk. Them folk been swimming, canoeing, kite-sailing, surfing and all manner of water sports for you to be thinking they made a deal with Neptune, Yemaya and all the water sprites of the world. They bought that water and are enjoying its benefits til this day. But meanwhile, back on dry land…

    As I listen to the poolside laughter and chatter, and clinking of silverware against china next door, I have to wonder what it is about this country that makes it such a strange place to live in. Well, for one, Mandela's Rainbow Nation is a fallacy. The obsessions over race that the Apartheid regime had clash uncomfortably with the what is supposed to be a non-racial and non-sexist society. You can breathe in racism almost every day, especially in Cape Town. I was walking home from work today, as it was finally sunny and warm and this was the best exercise I was going to get.

    Normally at this time of day the blacks and so-called coloureds are walking or running to catch the train home to the townships. All day they've been working for someone else for little pay, far from what could loosely be termed a home. I am usually one of the few black people going uphill. This should tell you about my neighbourhood. What upset me today, as it always does, was the white woman and her white dog getting out of her nice house in this burb to take her maid to the train station, or closer to home. The maid gave me such a look of contempt I wondered what it was about. I con

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    tinued on and saw my first jogger and his dog. He made it to the park and ran around there some more, while a homeless woman lay on a tattered blanket. Needless to say, she was not white, like most of the city's poor or homeless. I carried on up the road, looking at Table Mountain in the twilight. I passed a black security guard, guarding a complex I have only ever seen white people come in and out of. More joggers ensued. I recalled an African-American comedian saying how “white people are the jogginest folk” but immediately what came to mind was the difference in this neaighbourhood and my brother's neighbourhood in Joburg, where black people were the jogginest folk.

    It's always been clear to me that Cape Town is the most segregated of South Africa's cities, and having lived in other parts of the country I can say this with some experience. But it is also here that I have made my home, and initially quietly observed that transformation in this country was slow. There are networks that some people have formed, that keep them in certain industries, and keep others out. White people themselves have been the first to admit this, because it's not a secret and they talk openly, airing their prejudices quite easily and without fear of censure. Which makes it both a fascinating and maddening place to live. Yes, the government is corrupt, and this does make running the place effectively that much harder, and harder for those on the receiving end of their non-delivery of services. We get it. It's not just white folk who have been nor are still messing up. But looking at who is deemed a saint or a sinner in this country often has less of the sting of truth and more of the taste of prejudice.

    Yet the hope for Mandela's country, a country which we have all yet to see in full effect, is there. Those who cannot abide the culture of sainthood surrounding the former president speak freely and openly, and there are many. Yet, societies as torn asunder as South Africa sometimes do need heroes, someone to look up to collectively, as someone who holds things together while the rest is falling apart. There is no one common culture that South Africans have, and it seems the cult of Mandela may very well be the one thing they all have in common.

    This tweet today made me smile – writer Rebecca Davis, tweeting at @becsplanb said: Of course I love Mandela, for his vision of a non-racial society and letting us whites keep our swimming pools.

    And if you really haven't let me turn you off all the self-congratulatory 67 minutes of do-gooding on Mandela Day (when it should be a more permanent fixture of service in your life) then I hope you enjoyed it and it that it will actually help someone.

    Here's a Mandela video that retells his story via social media. Look out for the first sighting of uMam'Winnie

    Happy Birthday Tata! (Yes, I adore him, despite what I've said. He fought for my right to live where I want to, hold my head high, hold opinions in this country and not be jailed for them. Ngiyabonga Tata.)

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    Ten African Descended Beauty Queens You Should Know

    May 4th, 2012

    Miss Black France was recently crowned and it got me wondering – what was the point? Are we still at a point where we need to beg to be included in pageants that have been including representatives of black beauty for years now? What are side pageants such as Miss Black France offering that the bigger main competitions just aren’t? I’m of two minds about this. One is they might be necessary for a short while, but the other means presenting the atttude that black beauty is under threat in some societies. It doesn’t make for a convincing argument when you seek inclusion. Then again I don’t live in France.

    Black women have in the past won the mainstream Miss France, but in some quarters it was not enough. They believed there were women who still remained unnoticed or ignored by that particular pageant. The Miss Black France organisers had the go ahead from the main Miss France owners, but some raised a few expertly threaded eyebrows. Was this a dangerous precedent that they were setting for the long of limb and pulchritudinous of face? Or is there some real merit to bringing back these sorts of pageants? I’m not so sure.

    There still seems to be an aura of entitlement (ahem) surrounding these competitions but I’d like to think we’ve come a long way, and aren’t reverting back to those days of separate and unequal competitions. Well, it is beauty after all – there are no equals. But as far as taking note of black women, I think these pageants continue to do that, for what it’s worth.

     

     

    1. Miss France 2000

    Sonia Rolland

    Her mother is Rwandan and father is French.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    2. Miss Universe (Angola) 2011

    Leila Lopes

    The fourth black woman to win this title and current queen. Go Leila!

     

     

     

     

    3. Miss Universe (Trinidad and Tobago) 1998

    Wendy Fitzwilliam

    I remember watching this and thinking, now there goes a smart, strong, beautiful black woman. I can still hear the words of the ad for the next year’s pageant in her home country. The way she would say “rule the universe” always made my day. She was the second African descended woman, also from Trinidad and Tobago, to capture the title. The first was Janelle Commissiong in 1977.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    4. Miss Universe (Botswana) 1999

    Mpule Kwelagobe

    The third woman of African descent to win this title. She went to my high school in Botswana. Of course, everyone says they knew her back when…

    We’re really proud of this woman, who won it straight after Wendy Fitzwilliam. The 90s were good to black women.

     

     

     

     

     

    5. Miss America 1983

    Vanessa Williams

    In the year Oprah won Miss Black Tennessee year the Miss America pageant had not yet fully integrated. The first black Miss America was Vanessa Williams, crowned a good 12 years after Oprah had her turn in the segregated pageants of the South. Miss Black Tennessee, a scholarship pageant, still exists. Even though Vanessa had to relinquish her crown due to some nude photos suddenly rocking up to displace her win, a black woman, Suzette Charles, took over her reign. And from where we’re standing, Vanessa (and Oprah) just went from strength to strength. Scandal, what scandal?

     

     

     

     

    6. Miss Honduras 2011

    Keilyn Gomez

    She went to the Miss Universe pageant in 2011 and represented with her natural hair. I remember thinking now why don’t more black women, more beauty queens, just be themselves? She also talked about authenticity, which she had down pat.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    7. Miss World (Nigeria) 2001

    Agbani Darego

    The first black African Miss World. There had been two white South Africans to hold the title before her.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    8.  Miss France 2009

    Chloe Mortaud

    Her parentage is African-American mother and French father.

     

     

     

    9. Miss South Africa (1992, 1993, 1994)

    The special thing about these editions of Miss South Africa was that it was the first time a black woman had won the title in the mixed event. Before that, there was a Miss South Africa and a Miss Black South Africa. Confused? I know I was. What used to happen was that Miss South Africa was a segregated pageant, just like the population. It was Apartheid after all. Then came Nelson Mandela’s release, and it was just a short while to go until beauty pageant Apartheid couldn’t show its ugly face. So there went Amy Kleinhans, what South Africans call a Coloured woman, testing the waters as Miss South Africa in 1992. Not Miss Black South Africa, but queen of all she surveyed as Miss South Africa. Small steps. Finally ‘non-whites’ could also compete in the same pageant. You couldn’t just spring a whole dark face on the unsuspecting white population, so when Amy won the country could see what the reception of a not completely white Miss South Africa would be. Turns out she was accepted just fine, so the organisers decided it was time to make a big splash. It was then Jacqui Mofokeng’s turn in 1993. And then finally, the one everyone, black and white, still knows and loves – the 1994 freedom ringer queen: Basetsana Makgalamele (pictured left, now Kumalo). Miss South Africa still puzzles everyone from time to time (white women still win it more than any other group) but they finally got it right in at least conceding that black people are the majority and there should be a black Miss South Africa to represent the country. Now and then. At least there’s no more sending one white and one black representative to Miss World, where one is called Miss South Africa and the other is called Miss Africa South. Africa South, hell is that? I sat next to Miss South Africa 2004, Claudia Henkel, back when we were in law school. I also auctioned her off for charity there once. She was definitely no fun to walk around campus with, the differences in height were comical. But black and white could totally walk around campus, study, eat, talk together and compete in national beauty pageants. Well, she could, I couldn’t! Heavens no. But many young women, black, coloured and those of Asian descent in South Africa know that they have that chance, no matter what we ultimately think of beauty pageants. They are free to do so

     

    10. Miss Black France 2012

    Mbathio Beye

     

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    15 Songs for Malawi’s First Female President

    April 9th, 2012

    Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika (Christened Tryson Webster Thom when he was born) has died of a heart attack last week Thursday. Mutharika was in power for eight years, and was grooming his brother to succeed him. His vice-President, Joyce Banda, whom he expelled from the ruling party in 2010, went on to form another party, a fact which those in power at the time of his death wanted to cling to, in order to prevent her assuming the presidency.

    After a brouhaha swirled over reports of his death, and it was greatly feared that a succession battle was taking place in the corridors of power, wisdom and the Constitution finally prevailed. We Malawians now have a female head of state, Her Excellency President Joyce Hilda Banda.

    To say that I am so very proud to be Malawian right now…it’s a little overwhelming. Of course this is not the end of our troubles, but I hope she can restore faith in organs of state. I hope she surrounds herself with the right people, and does not succumb to the beguiling ways of power. On our continent, it is all too often that good leaders, or potentially good leaders, choose tangled paths. Madam President, here’s to a good tenure. May you lead with fortitude and grace, and may my beloved birthplace see a new dawn. Kwacha!

    *Kwacha means dawn. It is our currency, and also sets a jubilant tone when said out loud, with a fist raised. 

    1. Fela Kuti: Coffin for Head of State
    Pretty self-explanatory.

    2. Third World: Jah Love.
    Reggae has always been huge in Malawi, and Third World is gold. Malawi Gold! Dagga, sensimilia or weed is known as chamba in Malawi. Folk always want to talk about Malawi Gold with me…they should try Jah Love.

    3. Lucky Dube: Together As One.
    The patron saint of African reggae, Lucky Dube, has a special place in the hearts of many Malawians. RIP. You are missed. And yes, Bingu, RIP. Unfortunately, you won’t be too missed. I’m just stating facts here. (Video filmed in Cape Town. As per usual.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIReRYHd1cU&feature=related

    4. Yvonne Chaka Chaka: From Me To You.
    To say Malawians have a soft spot for South African music is an understatement. And of course women really represent in African music. Business and politics? We’re getting there.

    5. Brenda Fassie: Black President.
    An obligatory MaBrrr song on this list. If you know me, you know I adore this woman. Just as an aside, and not much to do with Malawi, really, but when I lived in Washington DC, I saw her boobs-baring performance at the Zanzibar club (yes the one the Time Magazine music special decided Africa was not ready for.) We’re always ready for a spot of boobs-baring. Just not in Malawi – a highly conservative, cover yourself from head to toe type of nation.

    6. Spoek Mathambo: Stuck Together
    A song about forever love, and has the word tombstones…just listen: “let me rest my bones, lay me down to sleep now.” In recent years, President Bingu liked to refer to Malawians as his children. Ah, well. We’re also, as a nation, stuck together. Bingu or no Bingu. From the old to the new. Let the past rest. Ah, geez. I just like this song, okay?

    7. Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven
    Of course. As an African and a rock music enthusiast (often seen as a rare breed), how would we leave the gods of rock out? I think, Bingu, your stairway lies on the whisperin wind… DPP woyeeee! (A politicking phrase he has come to be known for)

    8. Destiny’s Child: Independent Women
    Both the band name and the song name are great. President Joyce Banda got rid of her first husband (I would have liked to say she kicked his ass to the curb, but she took her kids and left him – dignified woman), and is now coming back harder than ever as a President.

    9. Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come
    That most handsome of all of yesteryear’s singers, Sam Cooke. Classic. And always relevant.

    10. Jimmy Cliff: Give The People What They Want
    And what they want is for our roots woman to turn things around. And it’s the truth, woman.

    11. The Very Best: Warm Heart of Africa.
    Esau Mwamwaya is a Malawian with an international profile as a musician. With London-based DJ/production duo Radioclit, he formed The Very Best. Anyone who sings about loving the Warm Heart of Africa is a good egg in my book. And the indie rock outfit Vampire Weekend features.

    12. Madonna: Holiday.
    This song a hit in Malawi when it first came out. We didn’t know back then…
    Also the late president died on the eve of a major holiday. Malawians comprise 80% Christians, so Easter weekend is super-important. I won’t even go into the whole prophesy thing, it irks me. Also, I didn’t realise Madonna’s choreography was so bad back then.

    13. Queen: Radio Ga Ga
    This always reminds me of Malawi. I remember my family visiting from Botswana in 1984 and there was not a day we didn’t hear this song. Radio is still the main news and entertainment provider in my country. Also, now you know how old I am.

    14. El Presidente: Without You.
    This video just cracks me up. Malawi’s main export is tobacco. I first heard this song in law school. The words are also interesting for our purposes. (‘For our purposes’ is an awful phrase I heard a lot in law school) I encourage everyone to read the Constitution of their country. And the band is called El Presidente. Dude! Our late president apparently wanted to smoke out us chickens, as he called the people of Malawi. We’ve come home to roost, so smoke that.

    15. Blk Sonshine – Building. I love this song, this band. Masauko, one half of Blk Sonshine, is the son of Malawian nationalist the late Henry Chipembere. Peace to all who make Malawi great, and raise our flag. Please get back into the studio Neo and Masauko, you made beautiful music together. Keep building everyone!

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    Colour My City: A Fashion Tour Through Cape Town (Photos)

    March 13th, 2012

    Young, up and coming South African photographer Zanele Jamjam took us on a fashion tour of Long and Kloof Streets, the fabled ‘spine’ of Cape Town where the world walks, and you can watch the beautiful people from everywhere. Step into any boutique, gallery or cafe in this busy district and you’re sure to find something unique, colourful and inspiring. From designers who call Cape Town home, such as Michelene and Alexandra Hojer, to the now US-based Thulare Monareng, this street is a fashion lover’s delight and offers a glimpse into what makes the city so much fun.[nggallery id=1]

     

    Production and Fashion: Luso Mnthali
    Photography and Maquillage: Zanele Jamjam
    Models: Vimbiso and Dumisane
    Shot on location in the Company’s Gardens, Hadeda Arts and Crafts, and iKhaya Lodge, Cape Town

    3 Comments "

    Africans Are Not Invisible: Rounding Up The Kony 2012 Campaign Debate

    March 7th, 2012

    By now you’ve probably seen the new Kony 2012 video from the Invisible Children organization (already headed towards at the 4 million mark within two days of being posted – the original movie came out in 2006) or if not seen #Kony2012 trending, along with #Uganda and #LRA, and wondered what in heck happened?

    If not, brace yourselves, because this is one bumpy ride.

    In a year that folk in the US should be concentrating on the polls, their economy, the rights of women (cue Sandra Fluke to center stage) and any manner of issues that can consume a society, they are now being asked to support a crazy activist campaign. Crazy in that once again Africans are being made to look like they need saving by yet another White person with a saviour-narcissist complex. And complex it truly is, as you will read in various of the posts that I will link to. It is too complex an issue for only the Invisible Children organization to be visible in its treatment, but it also owes the critical mass of attention it’s currently receiving to that organization.

    Related: Tom’s Shoes, To the Rescue?

    Simply put: the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group led by one Joseph Kony, who for over 25 years abducted boys in northern Uganda to become his soldiers, and girls to be sex slaves. At this point, you must know Kony is one hideous, hideous man. No question. And anybody would want to stop him. Yet the timing of this IC campaign is suspicious – why on earth does the IC lead saviour campaigner, former child soldier Jacob’s best friend in the whole world, not explain that Kony is no longer involved in Uganda, and that no one knows where he is? Why is the IC funding the Ugandan military, and how are we even going to sit here through the days of AFRICOM and pretend like the US government and its army are simply ‘advisers’? Why does this campaign look like only Americans can save Ugandans/Africans, when meanwhile Ugandans have been saving and helping themselves for many years? Completely nuts.

    Related: African Wealth Still An ‘Old Boys Club’

    Crazy in that this hipster almost all-white movement’s axis point, the video that went viral in a day, comes at a crucial time in American politics. A time when the questions asked by some are why neo-colonialist assumptions about the rightness of aid and awareness are no longer finding easy answers. And as Africans we are asking ourselves  why now? Before any of you get excited, or don’t, for whatever reason, there are some very real points to take into consideration.  From a Ugandan’s perspective like Musa Okwonga’s (he has family ties to the region in question) to Solome Lemma’s take on this campaign, there are some very strong points to be made about why supporting the Kony2012 campaign is the wrong idea.

    Related: Meet AfriPOP! Socialite Solome Lemma

    Like I said it’s all too complex, and I have my own opinions on the various branches of the story. But suffice to say that the crazy campaign that is Kony2012 is a reflection of white America’s ongoing internal battle: it wants to be seen as ‘the good guy’ always. The white saviour mentality is strong in this IC guy, and even his film exposes this. But that’s just my opinion, I really would like yours.

    Let us know what you think.

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