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:
It’s now a lot, a LOT of pieces about the Zendaya Coleman and Giuliana Rancic episode of White Women Behaving Badly. What, you don’t know that show? It’s screened almost daily on your television screens, on Twitter, in your life. And especially if you’re a Black girl or woman, you watch this show all the time. It’s one of those reality shows that you’re forced to watch. If you’re a Black girl at least count yourself lucky that you have people like India.Arie to look up to. Because that woman is love and compassion personified.
It seems that the biggest star of this White Women Behaving Badly show is someone called White Privilege and an unnamed, masked friend of hers in her ever-recurring guest star role as White Supremacy. Her children Ignorance, Entitlement and Lacko Compassion also make appearances on many occasions. That’s basically it in a nutshell.
You could just be walking down the street with your sister Nomazulu and whoop, there is White Privilege with her friend’s child (the one called Ignorance) in the backseat and she’s waving someone’s ID book at you and saying, “Lerato? I have Lerato’s ID book. Do you know her?” And you and Noma will look at each other on some “W T F” but say sweetly and kindly to the idiot, I mean, the person, in the car: “No, don’t know her. Haven’t seen any Leratos hanging out here, on this very street. The Leratos we know are all in Gauteng or Botswana” and that woman will look at you confused as all get out and drive on. In search of Lerato*.
Confused? So are we. We get mistaken for, or taken for someone else other than who we really are. All the time. And apparently we all know each other. Weed smokers, dirty, smelly, oily folk. We know you’re mistaking one for all of us. That’s the suggestion. (Okay yes, patchouli is nice. But still. Why suggest smell at all?) This is not really a case of mistaken identity, it’s a case of misidentifying on purpose. Because why would you need to be truthful, kind, empathetic, compassionate and real when it does’t serve your purpose? Too many white people have been hoodwinked into thinking that being casually racist and ignorant of other people, of their feelings, cultures and damn – their humanity – actually serves them well. Why would you need to know us, who we really are, when it doesn’t do you any good? It apparently does you good if you put the Black woman down, but secretly envy her with your tanning, your botox, your butt lifts or butt operations or what in heck y’all do, and your collagen and lip injections. You will then pretend that our hair is Bo Derek’s invention. That our lips are “Kylie Jenner lips” and when Kylie wears her hair in locs, according to Giuliana, it’s “edgy” but meanwhile…
Chile (to borrow from AAVE) you aint gotta do more. You done did too much already.
You should hear me laugh because the time has come or is coming or will come—I am just not sure of the temporal arrangements— when this shit has had its day and is done and dusted for good. For real. It’s enough now.
From Giuliana to Patricia Arquette just refusing to acknowledge her faux pas and off-key disregard for whole swathes of people (Black Queer Women and all combinations thereof) it’s been a week. Then you have those who will defend a woman who definitely mis-spoke with a lack of true understanding, a lack of a more nuanced context. We are constantly asked to think or dream “bigger”, or to fight for something other than our own identities. We as Black women are too used to this. It’s not something you get used to, or should, but we know it’s always happening. This seems to be the decade to address white privilege in all its incarnations. If you’re feeling tired, or exhausted by having to deal with, hear about or even just see this nonsense, you’re not alone. We want to just switch off this kind of thing. Turn our backs on it, never have to know it exists, forever more not have to deal with it. But it’s not next week yet, right? Because you know that some fool, somewhere down the line, will be committing more acts of, if not hara-kiri, pretend apologising. The fauxpology has met its century. I do however think Giuliana’s eventual apology after the initial non-apology apology was heartfelt. Because impact, not intent. Tune in for next week’s episode, although I’m sure you don’t want to. The racism will be televised, and you’ll be forced, once again, to watch.
*Lerato means love in Setswana and Sesotho. It’s a popular name for girls.
How Relevant Are African-American Feminists to African Women? South African Feminist Wanelisa Xaba Weighs InFebruary 16th, 2015
Last week we published Part One of our interview with South African feminist thinker aka “Black Femininja” Wanelisa Xaba. Read on for Part Two.
I think it’s important to know that the feminist movement in South Africa isn’t a middle class and comfortable one – it could never be. It has to be rooted in the poor, in the black women who need it most and who feel it most, and from whom it will organically be a tool for freedom. So who are the people we must know about? Who are the pillars of the movement here, and others on the continent or abroad who shape your views?
There are so many people to know! I think its important here to locate my feminism. I locate myself as a Black feminist. If I don’t then I might be mistake for mainstream feminism which is White liberal racist women. Black feminism because I am from the Black Consciousness school of thought which located white racism and imperialism in South Africa and Africa and how it has psychologically damaged the Black soul. People like Steve Biko, Anton Lembede, Robert Sobukwe and Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela are people to know. Postcolonial scholars like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Edward Said, Es’kia Mphahlele, Valentin-Yves Mudimbe and the great woman who revolutionized how we think of gender binaries (women and men) as a Western construct: Ifi Amadiume.
Beautiful African female giants who challenge white feminism by just existing like Oyeronke Oyewumi, the great Sylvia Tamale, Amina Mama, Pumla Gqola, Yaliwe Clarke, Sara Longwe, Desiree Lewis and many others. Once you have read the depth of these women’s insights you understand why I would get mad when Americans write articles that invisibalize these women. Two African-American women that helped me come to terms with Black consciousness and feminism at the same time, are Audre Lorde and Angela Davis. I think these Black women understood the homophobic and sexist Left and racist hostile white liberal feminism and carved a space for the Black feminist to exist without losing their commitment to fight white racism and Black patriarchy.
Lastly, what’s your view of Beyoncé and the celebrity endorsement of feminism? And can I tell you – I have Flawless on right now as I type this. “Gahtdamn! Gahtdamn! Gahtdamn!”
Look. I love Beyoncé but I’m very very very critical of her. I think if I’m honest, I don’t love her for her feminism but because her fame, her Barbie doll white normative beauty, her power and money is something that entices me from the margins. The seduction of power and fame in a capitalist society. I think if she wants to be a feminist, I am not the gatekeeper of feminism. I do defend her though because white feminists tend to police her and their perception of her stupidity stem from racism. I think some Black women impose respectability politics on her, how she dresses and her weave. I do think that Beyoncé is not critical of white supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism of which she gains much from. She doesn’t have to wear a fro and be Black power however she needs to be critical of her role and how she has gained and still perpetuates patriarchy and whiteness. No one is the perfect feminist but at some point, you must refuse to participate so fully in systems of oppression.
So you’re not saying that African-American feminists are not or that they don’t remain useful, but that they consider not silencing other voices, especially other black feminist voices? What about the accusation that we may be harsh with them but we still use their pedagogies? We use their tools, even as we speak about Audre Lorde or bell hooks, do we still criticise them?
They are relevant to us African feminists especially in a South African context where we live under white supremacy where the Gatekeepers are an anti-Black government. They understand what it means to fight on all fronts. I am not saying that Audre Lorde is not useful, in fact my whole thing is that her and Angela Davis had/have a very broad sense of the term Black and to continuously make connections with the Global South. Even Assata Shakur in Cuba. But I become very critical of Alice Walker and her positionality when she delivers a talk in South Africa and criticises our president’s polygamous marriage. It’s like, you don’t have the understanding and cultural knowledges to understand the nuances of that. You can’t talk about that lady, sorry. Again, I think that even though I may not claim to know what it is to be an AA, however I educate myself quite regularly on their struggles and terms and tools. But I wonder if I would be able to have a conversation with Black feminists in the US about the cultural complexities of female circumcision and the fact that I know some feminists who want their husbands to pay lobola.
I think that African-American feminists can be mindful of the fact that there is another world of Black people outside the US who define Blackness and Black feminism differently to them. That even though they might be underdogs in the States, that because of how global hierarchies are structured, their ignorance of the rest of us and our struggles can be oppression in itself. That we support their struggles however Black people are dying elsewhere under white supremacy. Do they know about Marikana in South Africa? Do they know about the woman in Zimbabwe who was attacked for wearing a short skirt? Do they know about the unequal flow of news from the West to the rest of us? Women like Angela Davis knew the power of international solidarity amongst the poor and oppressed of the world and not just a one way from the West.
Lastly, Black feminism didn’t originate from the States, Black women have been feministing even before white women coined the word. Black women in Africa had been having conversations and living intersectional lives before Kimberle Crenshaw.
Thank you so very much for talking to us, Wani, you’re always a delight.
Thanks so much for listening to me.
Join afriPOP! on Feb 21 in Brooklyn as we dissect African feminism, “Chibok to Chimamanda” with Joan Morgan, Ms. Afropolitan Minna Salami, Sana Musasanna, Zeinab Eyega during the After Afropolitan exhibition’s Redefining 2015 coneference. Click here for more information,
Recently, AfriPOP Managing Editor Luso Mnthali had a chance to talk to Wanelisa Xaba, co-founder of the South African Young Feminist Activists (SAY-F). In this two-part interview, we set out to reveal what a young black South African feminist holds closest to her heart.
In her own words: “Wanelisa Xaba is a firebrand Black feminist and a founding member of the South African Young Feminist Activists. Imperfect daughter, friend and mother. Poet as a means of survival. Aspiring writer. Irrelevantly a UCT postgraduate student. She lives in a ghetto outside the white colony of Cape Town.”
After the Washington Post published a list of prominent feminists earlier this month, Xaba expressed concern on SAY-F’s Facebook page that there were (save perhaps one) mostly American feminists on the list although the headline said “prominent feminists”. Xaba felt it couldn’t just list these feminists as though the US is the only country that has significant feminists. That it is an American paper might be the argument here, but it’s not just that, it is definitely an American paper read everywhere. It seemed to her that even though African-American feminists have had to work hard to get their voices heard and to maintain a visible presence despite some spaces continuing to exclude them, African feminists, and over non-Americans are not talked about at all. In an email exchange I asked her a few questions about her concerns.
Luso Mnthali for AfriPOP: What was your general ire about the article?
Well, I thought the article to be misleading and quite indicative of Western feminism in the way it invisibalized other feminisms from other parts of the world. The title of the article said it interviewed leading feminist or leaders of the feminist movement HOWEVER it interviewed mostly American feminists and one or two women whose work is relevant to the US, like the feminist who works for the UN (a very problematic organization by the way). So I went there expecting to find voices from my context, African feminists like Amina Mama etc. There is a hegemony in Western feminism that sets itself up as the norm, even in Black US feminism, and that needs to be challenged.
What I love about you, is that since we met, I’ve always known you to be this deeply concerned, involved and vocal woman. Especially about politics, and the politics of the feminine. You always have a word to say about our world in a rather intersectional way that I don’t see many Africans engaging with. Where is this from and who or what do you have to be to do that? To think this way?
So, I would say I embody a myriad intersectional identities and oppressions, and that allows me to look at the world differently. However, I constantly educate myself on other marginalized population groups fighting to be acknowledged as human. And I think that people who live with privilege must be willing to listen to the marginalized and constantly educate themselves.
I think what I’m also trying to ask is – how do you become conscientized in your environment? What is it about environment that makes you see things a particular way? And can one transcend environment?
I wont lie, Gender Studies has really helped in terms of being able to have a vocabulary to express the cage full of butterflies in my tummy. I think feminist academia has given me the tools to express my embodied knowledges.Yes! It’s embodied knowledges. Our bodies carry a wealth of knowledges. So the concept of intersectionality is embodied as a Black conscious cis feminist from a poor background attending a white colonial university like UCT. On one body I carry different contradicting experiences and I am intimate with very different kinds of oppression and I think this allows me to look at the world and empathise with many people. As a cis individual, I live in a world that oppresses many people who are non-gender conforming, queer or trans and I have to educate myself about trans oppression in order for me to be sensitive. I have been socialized in a heteronormative world and I struggle with prejudice however I constantly work on my issues and support other people’s struggles. Ultimately, I cannot fight for freedom if it oppresses another group of marginalized people in society.
I’m now having a moment, where, when I read some of the things you say, some of the most impromptu, and just plain smart but really quick thoughts that you have – I have this feeling of talking to or reading someone very quotable. Have you been told that this is who you are? That you come off as someone with a deep intellectual curiosity, but who has humility and is steeped in the traditions and things of this world. Not even, as a young feminist trying to make her way, putting on some of the inherent airs and graces that have come (for some) with being labelled “activist” “feminist” and what have you. Because the reality is, for some it’s a stepping stone to somewhere, some recognition or fame. Not that that is what essentially drives them, but there seems to be some hive mind operating in some instances, a real groupthink mentality and if it’s not an old boys club, it’s certainly a new girls club. And not everyone’s invited, or can dissent. Can you expound on that?
First, wow. Thank you. That makes me want to cry because growing up as a Black South African girl child, the overwhelming message was that I was fat, poor, ugly and from a bastard race. Words are so powerful and can build, thank you for building me today.
I hear you with regards to the girls club, and some people whom I respected I have found have this “we are clever and radical” air. There is definitely a feminist celebrity culture out there which is superficial and based on egos. I wouldn’t say I don’t have an ego or I am not sometimes motivated by ill intentions but you have to come back to yourself. And why are we here? Why I am here is because I literally can’t breathe. That my cousins can’t breathe, my friends can’t breathe and my colleagues cannot breathe. In South Africa, to be a poor Black woman is to live through a war zone. Your humanity is under attack and you are constantly fearful of rape by a friend or boss, murder by a significant other, attack by the police, a beating on your way to scrub white people’s toilets, by a deranged racist. And organizing with other women is the only way of survival. There is little room for ego when Black lesbians are being killed on account of their sexuality and the political Left say its not a hate crime or homophobia. There is only space for organizing and fighting and moving forward. We are raising the Black girl child in a white supremacist, colonial, patriarchal homophobic transphobic South Africa and if we don’t take huge steps right now, ten years down my daughter will tell me she can’t breathe. That thought keeps me going.
I had to share what you wrote recently on your FB wall:
“There are different kinds of violence, the one comes in acts of terror and shock but there is another kind. The equally damaging kind. The lethal kind. The one that seeps into discourse and suggests people of a certain religion, race, culture are less human. The kind that laces media houses with lies. The kind that draws racist cartoons and calls it free speech. The kind that distorts peoples humanity, their faith to barbarism in the name of freedom. The kind of violence that makes comparisons leaving white people and Judeo-Christianity as the norm. That is violence. That is terror to us living on the wrong side of freedom and the joke called democracy. Terrorism is more pervasive than you think.”
Because somewhere in there, many people have had just these thoughts, and it can take a long time, and much education or awareness to come to these conclusions. At least for me, that is the truth. They are not every day conclusions, and certainly not held by those in power or interested in maintaining the status quo. So my next question becomes: how do we teach people about power relations? How do we teach people about themselves and each other? What do you think feminism can teach us all in this respect?
People need to know that they have power. We are born powerful within ourselves and we can overthrow powerful systems in little radical ways. With this understanding, we must understand that as powerful human beings, we can use that power to delegitimize other people’s humanity in little ways.
We also need to understand that we are born into broader structures of power that have been in place before they existed in this present form. That structure is a white supremacist, patriarchal heteronormative capitalist structure of power as coined by bell hooks. This structure values what is white, what is cis male and what is heterosexual and what is capitalist. And some of us who are born woman, born Black, born poor, born differently abled, born in Africa in what they call global south are at the bottom of humanity. And when despite socialization as inferior, and ugly and and and…when we align our power and rid ourselves of the lies that we deserve to struggle or that we are abnormal, we then question this power structure. When you question and are critical, you are close to resisting. Organizing against this structure of oppression.
Check back in tomorrow for part two of our interview with Wanelise Xaba.
I was on radio the other day, trying to explain to Shado Twala, well-known radio and television personality here in South Africa, how racism personally affects me. I had this great chance to finally tell a wider audience what it feels like to live in a city that denies you so much because you’re black. But I focused too much on how I’d been getting hostile looks from strangers, and being shoved and bumped into a couple of times while walking in my predominantly white neighbourhood. I felt like I blew it. Gone was the experience I had on my first date with the man who would later become my boyfriend. It was here in Cape Town, years ago, when another white man lunged at me and spat out some ugly racist words at me. I won’t say publicly what they are, not now anyway. Because he wasn’t aware of it at the time, I only told my man this had happened years later. It’s not something I want to remember, or talk about, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Possibly because there have been so many incidents of racism in the Cape in recent months. And it’s happened not only when the tourists flood in during the month we all lovingly call Dezemba. Even though, during my conversation with uMam’Shado, we were slightly glib about how the tourists from other provinces annually bring with them a spate of complaints about the ‘Mother City’ as it is known to some. My black South African friends have asked: “Mother to whom, this city? Who does it mother and who is the mother?”
So I felt that, during that conversation, gone were the experiences of friends trying to rent apartments,but being disappointed because of race-based selection or denial. Of friends leaving their jobs and packing up to go back to Joburg after a year or two. Gone were the stories of how even academia works to keep black people out. Gone were the myriad instances of microagression and hostility in a place that renders you both visible and invisible. You’re visible when you’ve clearly transgressed – how dare you walk around with a white man who clearly adores you? What are you doing with him? Or, as some women from a white-owned mainly white-staffed media house asked my friend about me – “How did she get a white guy?”
You’re invisible when you are the street cleaner, or the domestic worker who has now changed out of her servant’s uniform and is chatting with other domestic workers on the bus or in the cramped taxi for the long trip heading home. Or when you’re the black nanny meeting up with other black nannies as you push the strollers and prams of your white charges up the hill, so you can take them to the park with the water feature and guinea fowl running around in the mountain neighbourhood. Your own children, where do they play?
When you’ve been explaining what it is that ails you, what really troubles you about a place, for years and years, it gets hard to do so in a radio interview. It’s what you’ve been talking about for so long that you almost don’t know how to put into words so that they get it. And finally people are listening and seem to understand what’s been going on. It’s in all the papers for heavens sake, you’re not making things up. Finally people believe you. Or do they?
With all the gaslighting that goes on, that sense that the abuse you thought was real all along actually isn’t, because someone can make you doubt it – the real toll it can take has yet to be thoroughly examined. And it is not easy to talk about. So I need people to understand this – the racism we experience in Cape Town as black people is real. We are not making it up. So stop gaslighting us. Stop denying that these experiences happen. Stop placing doubt on our experiences every time an incident occurs. The solution to racism is simple – stop being racist.
As a black woman, an immigrant from Malawi, I have faced countless challenges. One that stands clearly in my mind is when after being told it was ready and had my new permit in it, the man behind the desk at Home Affairs wouldn’t give it to me. I had to have my tall blond German-accented boyfriend stride in and demand my passport back from the person because that person swore at me (yes, swore at me. the F word was used by a male government official dealing with a woman who merely wanted her passport back.)
I was so ashamed. To be black in a country that respects white people’s authority over the actual black owner of a passport. To have had to call on my white boyfriend to help me in that instance. I was ashamed, saddened, disgusted and scared that I would have to live in a place that would constantly ask me to go through such humiliations. And it did. Many times over, in many other ways. We won’t talk about the bullying in the workplace, the being followed around a shop, meanwhile the white person this black security guard has left alone is beeping at the shop entrance. We won’t talk about the things people say as I walk past them, holding hands with a white man. Not just ugly looks sometimes, but also ugly comments. We won’t talk about the concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens where a white gay couple seated in front of us on the lawn, instead of facing the stage, stared back at us directly for five long minutes until we started talking about them: “look at these guys, so lacking inner beauty they must just stare at us” “these people have everything, yet they won’t share a simple lawn with black people” (ja, neh. they ended up turning around, defeated, and we enjoyed the concert without further incident) (but still, hey)
We won’t talk about the many instances of racism and the microaggressions which I have had to scream about alone at home, or rant about on Twitter, or also hear of from friends. And sometimes see those friends leave, go back to Joburg after a couple of years, in sadness and disgust over a place that is so unwelcoming. Where even the Premier can call black people refugees. We won’t talk about it because it is as droplets of water are in an ocean we see every day here in Koloni, the other name for Cape Town.
So here I was on radio being asked to have a larger conversation about the things I and many others experience in this city. As black people we are constantly asked for proof of this racism we talk about. To be asked for proof assumes that I don’t know my own mind, or that this thing isn’t in the news constantly, not just in December. It assumes that there must automatically be a distrust of the message and the messenger. To be honest I’ve talked enough. Many have also talked. And some keep talking in very nuanced, intelligent ways. They are better at explaining what ails us all than I am. There are also those that have enough empathy or self-reflection to say that things must change, and that the responsibility lies with them. Some can surprise you. But isn’t that the whole point of this exercise? To not throw people away as hopelessly mired in a system of thought, in a greedy and odious, rejecting and exclusive, backward mindset that results in treating other humans as lesser beings. We as black people everywhere, and as media practitioners, keep writing about our condition. But I always wonder who is listening. Some are playing to the gallery, but some are seriously trying to make a difference with their cerebral, well-researched and considerably more erudite arguments. We talk of racism as a global phenomenon, we see people are being killed in the US, denied jobs and opportunities there, denied the right to live in dignity, to own the spaces they simply walk in – simply because, they are told, that by virtue of being black, they don’t belong. In the US the young people in the movement are trying to figure out new tools with which to dismantle the hold of racism there, but in the local context we have not tried to use new tools with which to dismantle it.
When we get emotional it feeds into an outrage loop, losing impact. It is as though we’re supposed to be unemotional, clinical, scientific and data-driven even about something that affects us not only psychologically, but economically, physically and emotionally. It affects where we live, how we live and love, and who we are as human beings. I realise that those racism denialists care not a jot about this, so they ask for proof and data, clinically and coldly, as though they themselves are involved in great scientific analyses of their own lives, especially as lay persons. Their experiences are said to be valid just because they breathe, or say they feel pain. We are there, black women and men in Cape Town, and until someone dons blackface to caricature us, urinates on us, klaps us or beats, or pangas us or denies us a seat at a table in a restaurant somewhere, and the media picks it up, we apparently have not actually experienced what we are experiencing. It is the most frustrating thing to be told you are not in pain, or you have not been affected, or are being tormented by something, when in reality you are. This is called gaslighting, and it is a tool of oppressors the world over. When we are told the city doesn’t have a race problem, this is gaslighting – denying racism and denying the pain that this causes the people who live in this city. Because it’s not only black people who feel this pain, it’s white people also who know that there is a problem here, and who are in solidarity and who also do not want to be accused or also seen to be in league with the racists. All this racism, yet there are no racists? How is that possible?
And that is the heart of the matter. We have a general lack of sympathy for others, and more importantly a lack of empathy, in this country. However, in Cape Town there’s an acute case of this ailment. An admission that these things occur, and at too frequent a rate and too high a volume, shows empathy. Not guilt – empathy.
The conversation we should continue to have is one that includes those who exclude us. One that says the people who are the problem have to be part of the solution. Black people may not have entirely forgiven, and nor will they ever forget and shouldn’t ever be asked to forget. That is also a problem in this country – white people telling black people to forget what was clearly a crime against humanity. This certainly makes it seem that enough white people have little empathy for those who do not look like them. They need to do better. Can we have that discussion about greater empathy, not only of whites for blacks, but of all of us for all of us?
About Luso Mnthali: Born in Malawi, grew up in Gaborone, Botswana. Called the US home for a decade, currently live in Cape Town, South Africa. Books and travel, arts and culture addict.
So I keep seeing women planning their weddings. That’s normal, it’s wedding season in South Africa. But what I don’t get is those ones who have planned their wedding down to the last bit of minutiae – when they are not engaged, or even have a significant other in their lives. Confession – I’ve been guilty of something similar as well, in the past. Especially when it comes to music. I laugh at the thought of wanting the Ice Prince song “Oleku” to be on the playlist at this wedding that is to take place at some point in the future but I don’t know when and where. Why? What made me think this way? And that song? What’s it got to do with anything? Jeez.
So I’m going to be very gentle here, because how I handle my sisters in the unmarried struggle would be how I want someone to treat my own situation. Delicate and nice, but strong with a good dose of common sense. I understand when Cuffing Season starts and single women talk incessantly with their friends about not having a man. I know it’s happened to some of y’all. You might have hooked up seasonally, and when the sunshine and warmth comes back y’all are good – sort of. But this thing of saying, during what we call Dezemba here in Southern Africa, that you’re planning a wedding down to the last detail – I don’t understand.
Why are you planning a wedding before you’ve found your significant other? My friend Lufuno even questioned why she did this. She posted the following on Facebook (reproduced here with permission of course): “The problem with being single, when you are bored you start planning your wedding day. I’ve got mine planned to the T, the dress, the cake, the decor etc….BUT I don’t even have a boyfriend…so depressing.” Soon the laughter and the questions ensued. Then someone said something interesting, which was that she was “moving in faith” and this was a spiritual term. She was then advised by this person to go ahead and plan, and even get quotes of how much everything would cost. I laughed. But then something in me stopped to listen, and listen good. If you don’t declare your intentions to the Universe, to God or whatever and whomever you believe in, how will they know what it is you want? And down to the last T could be a good thing. I used to say I wanted tall, dark and handsome – well, I got tall, dark and handsome but those relationships never lasted. I decided I had to be even more specific and when I found the right person, I would know. Do I still like tall, dark and handsome? You betcha! But I’m more specific about his inner life, than his outer appearance.
I’m going to be Mrs Obvious and say that being very detailed and specific about what you want at your wedding should also carry over to other aspects of love – what you want in your mate, what kind of relationship you want. (please dear Universe do NOT send me someone called Brighton Obvious who I fall trulymadlydeeply with. This is just an opinion piece not a request. Please.)
People spend so much time worrying about the details of a wedding, making sure it’s “perfect” – and many times it doesn’t turn out the way they thought it would. Sometimes it’s even better, because they’re living within the parameters of what they hoped for but life is still there, adding spice to the dish you’re trying to make and present to the world. If you’ve found the right person, this should be a beautiful day, no matter what. More time should be spent on getting to know your person, and before you even meet, having that criteria in place. Planning the event before finding your soulmate or significant other or lover for life or whatever you call them – leaves out a whole chunk of detail that’s quite important. But I also sort of get it. It’s anticipation due to social conditioning.
Being single shouldn’t be about obsessing about each and every variable – it should be about being honest and going for what you want. A time to find and love yourself, and prepare for that time you won’t be single. So you need to enjoy it. I know, my single friends will be rolling their eyes reading this. For the most part they enjoy their lives but want someone to share it with them. That’s natural. But in some cases I’ve seen such over-romanticising of relationships and have to remind them of the divorce rate, of the struggles of their friends and other people they know who are in real relationships. Their eyes still glaze over, dreamily. I sigh, wanting to knock sense and reality back into them.
I think my friend Lufuno knows what she wants. I enjoy her solo travel stories (most recently to Paris) and today she made me laugh with her cheeky status. While some of us have “it’s complicated” or “single” as our relationship status, I think our life status shouldn’t be dictated by having or not having a significant other in our lives. Yes, watch that wedding show now and again – it’s funny. Or hop on over to Munaluchi Bridal to see loveliness and two well-dressed people officially joining their lives. But as single gals, it can’t be a thing you obsess about. Go out and enjoy your lives.
Many of you already are. You’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, travelling through Europe, teaching yoga, skateboarding, being awesome, pursuing each and every thing your heart desires. Attention to that, and the details of that – are absolutely the most enchanting thing about you. Your relationship with yourself before anyone else? Absolutely the most priceless and valuable love story you have to share with the world, and anyone else who wants to bask in your love. I will read these very words as well, and take my own advice. I also need it. And I hope you keep it in mind, whether planning a wedding, or not.
About Luso Mnthali: Born in Malawi, grew up in Gaborone, Botswana. Called the US home for a decade, currently live in Cape Town, South Africa. Books and travel, arts and culture addict.
South African football player Senzo Meyiwa is dead and no amount of blame will bring him back.
In deaths unrelated to violent crime, Olympic silver medalist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi also died in an accident, and the boxer Phindile Mwelase died last week from match-related injuries, which sent her into a coma. In the aftermath of what must surely be one of the most devastating and tragic weekends to have hit the South African sports fraternity, we must also look at how we assign blame and assert moral authority over others.
When Orlando Pirates and national team goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa was shot dead at his girlfriend Kelly Khumalo’s house this past weekend, the world grieved with South Africa. An apparent robbery (the gunmen took a cellphone, and left his high-end car parked at the house) the full facts of the case are still under investigation. A quarter of a million rand reward has been offered by police for any information leading to the arrest of the murderers.
What’s clear about the case is that in a high crime country such as this one, no one is unaffected. We all have stories to tell, or know at least one person who has suffered from crime. The country has lost a major sports icon in Senzo Meyiwa, who was 27. We can talk about violence, crime statistics, inequality, and a host of other things surrounding this tragic loss, but many of us have chosen to also focus on Meyiwa’s private life.
There are so many opinions, and truthfully we all have them. We all have an anecdote about the last match we saw him play in, or a photo we most prefer of the beloved sports star. Some of us might keep playing the video of him dancing at an awards show or singing his girlfriend’s latest track. Some others will want to talk about his wife as opposed to his girlfriend. We’ll want to talk about culture, and how so and so from such and such media house must not equate Kelly’s role with Mandisa’s. The “side chick” versus the legal wife. Even if the two were separated, “respectful” media houses have said he is survived by his wife and daughter, and another daughter by singer and actress Kelly Khumalo. They have done the polls and found that the public still wants this marriage respected. Via social media we know who has taken the wife’s “side” and who openly acknowledges the pain Kelly must be going through. Well it’s no secret – those photos of her pain etched deeply on her face speak of something none of us ever wants to go through and hopes never to. The man she loves is gone. Taken away from her so brutally and suddenly. It’s not that we are not acknowledging the wife’s pain, but we needn’t condemn this woman so vociferously. The Twittersphere has been abuzz with the most virulent strains of condemnation and misogyny. As if she alone were in an adulterous relationship.
Why are we so intent on saying things like “One man in jail. One man shot and killed. Kelly must re-evaluate her life” “The next man who dates Kelly is gonna have to pray to his ancestors” “she must be stoned to death” Etc. etc.
Is Kelly really the main factor behind the unfortunate demise of Senzo, and the circumstances of Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye’s imprisonment? Not to speak ill of the dead, but did Senzo not make his own choices, and when news of the affair came out, also admit that he had deceived both of them, the wife and the mistress?
People have come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories, and exhortations to Kelly to do some deep introspection. As though she brought this tragedy upon herself, or actually asked for it. How could anyone? She’s suffering just as much as anyone else close to this man, if not more. He was her lover, the father of her very young daughter. People need to show him respect at this time, for his love and his choices. Blaming her for being in his life, or for whatever else we blame women upon whom tragedy has decided to fall upon twice, is not the way. Although Kelly’s life seems to have had more drama and tragedy than the average, and she might need to look for alternative ways of living or doing things, I detest the undertone of these finger-wags. The fact is Kelly has been thrown into some pretty deep waters already. She has suffered and will continue to suffer for some time. Can we not let those who have lost loved ones in such a horrific manner just be. No matter who they are, what they did, who they are with, why and how they are with them?
Of course people are going to speculate, are going to talk, especially when Senzo’s father has said she’s not welcome at the funeral. But I think we make the sad even sadder because of our words. Because of how we want them to live, instead of honoring how they actually lived, whom they loved and were with at the moment they died. Let’s let people be, hle bathong. I beg.
Someone once said that if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. I feel I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately. We’ve all been watching many kinds of anger unfold. There’s been so much conflict. I’ve been plenty angry, and because I’m so angry I’ve seen some backlash. It was suggested to me that I “just want to bitch” “for no reason” “all the time”. I want to ask these people – “why are you not angry? are you not aware of what’s going on in the world?”
I’ve been questioning if there are uses for certain kinds of rage. What good can come from a certain kind of rage? I was recently so angry about a certain situation in my life I couldn’t think straight. I felt I was on permanent boil and it made me terribly sad. Once the anger melted sufficiently but I could still feel the heat of it, I decided to listen. I had some strong conversations, and I read certain things. I sought the people who I thought might have some answers. Many times I was told I was right to feel angry and sad. That some kinds of abuse can leave you paralysed with anger. I found that compassion was the missing ingredient, and this is why I was so angry.
The one song that managed to encapsulate some of the rage I was feeling is Black Rage, by Lauryn Hill. She dedicated it to Ferguson, and by now most people know the sad and maddening events that have taken place there. Although the song had nothing to do with my own anger in my life, I felt it was very healing. I realised that some of the sadness I felt was also compounded by everything in the news. And I needed to hear that song, but switch everything else off for a short time.
Even though the song had been written and performed before Michael Brown’s death, it manages to be prescient and speaks to what is felt by many African-Americans in their own country.
It’s not only Americans who are angry about Michael Brown’s death. British comedian and political satirist John Oliver delivered a great monologue that cut straight to the chase. Most of the news reports cited “angry protestors” “new outrage” and some really focused on looting. We all know that black anger many times falls on deaf ears. So yes, white men needed to be angry enough to talk to the people who most need to be faced with this level of angry. Oliver showed the ridiculousness of a militarized police force, and how the response to the protestors was unequal. And he was funny with it. It is entirely possible to be funny and angry, and he nailed it.
John Oliver’s comedy comrade Jon Stewart also vented his anger and frustration about the handling of Michael Brown’s killing recently. More white American men should be angry that their country is like this. What was great is that he called out the hypocrisy of the right-wing media in the US which chooses to deny the realities of how black Americans are living and dying right under their “Anglo-American” noses. Yes, race and racism is exhausting. He gets it so right. Wish more white folk thought things all the way through like this. Perhaps there would be less rage in the world.
But it’s not all raging against the whiteness of the machine. In the ecosystems we recreate all over the world, sexism, patriarchy and misogyny, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr, also keep the arc of the moral universe from bending ever so slowly towards justice.
August in South Africa equals Women’s Month. We have one whole month in which empty promises to “appreciate” and “love” us are made. There is endless talk about rape but not enough action to prevent it. August was also the month in which a lesbian woman was raped and murdered.
All the reports said:
“The young woman, Gift Makau, was found dead in Tshing location on Friday. She had been raped and strangled with wire and a shoelace and a hosepipe had been shoved into her mouth.”
Rage. Rage against this dying of another light. And in our rage we shed tears, we mourned, and knew that nothing was going to be done. All the empty platitudes in the world could not bring Gift back. Could not bring back Anene Booysen, and the countless other women across this beautiful, brutal land that had been violated and murdered simply because they are women.
We borrowed words from poets to perhaps comfort us, and knew we could not be comforted. All this abuse of the black body. If it’s not abuse of the black body at the hands of white male cops, it’s abuse of the black female body by black males. It is systems of dominance and oppression. And it is enough to make you mad. So angry, so mad. What to say, what to think of first or next in this wild season?
A short time before the murder of Gift Makau, I was privileged to watch a theatre performance called I Stand Corrected by award-winning South African choreographer and dancer Mamela Nyamza, and actor and playwright Mojisola Adebayo. In the piece, Nyamza brought to life a dead woman who was supposed to have married her lesbian lover. The woman is instead murdered. The performance is based on an actual event. There was a lesbian who had been murdered and left in a garbage bin, only to be found after a year. It is a story that has become increasingly common in South Africa. What do you do with such gruesome events? What do you do when it could have been you? Nyamza and Adebayo set out to answer some of these questions. Aside from the obvious about portraying lesbians in love, it was essentially a love story. It was a human story about human love, and I came away feeling like my skin wasn’t the same any more. Could your love survive death, I asked myself. How can South African lesbians survive all this death targeted at them?
Such a performance is generated by anger. It is generated by the need to put names, dates, faces and feelings onto unspeakable acts. It is anger and pain, love and creativity.
In this annus horribilis, I think we should keep asking ourselves if we’re angry enough about certain things that happen in the world. Certainly, some people require it of us, and ask us to join in their outrage. But is it a rage we can rely on? If it were something we could rely on, it would take us more places would it not? We would make more of a difference would we not? Perhaps we’re not angry enough, and in enough of the right ways.
On the eve of the fifth democratic elections in South Africa, to be held on Wednesday May 7th, nothing is assured. With the ANC still expected to take the polls at a staggering 60% of the vote despite high unemployment, President Jacob Zuma’s personal scandals, and the ruling party embroiled in protests due to lack of service delivery, the historic liberation organization that was always Tata Nelson Mandela’s home has seen some dramatic changes. A restive labour market has also not made things easy for the ANC. So where to next?
Because unemployment has been everybody’s rallying cry, from the older, established opposition parties like the Democratic Alliance (who are very similar in substance if not form to the ANC), to the young whippersnappers like the EFF. Part of the ANC’s manifesto to “Set aside employment in 60% of government’s infrastructure projects to young people” and to “Prioritise 80% of unemployed youth in Public Works Programmes” that will create millions of new jobs just sounds like more of the same promises we’ve been hearing for years. And basic education seems to be one of those departments everyone forgets about. Without decent basic education, how are the youth even going to cope with their own seemingly bleak future? How are the ANC different compared to what anybody else is offering?
Shaka Sisulu, the son the Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu, and grandson of ANC stalwarts Walter and Albertina Sisulu, answered some questions about what it means to be a young South African right now, and why the ANC is, to him, still the answer for South African youth.
What about the ANC makes it a viable party for young people in a country with such high youth unemployment (it is at 50%)
The ANC gets it – that there is a fine balancing act between creating opportunities for young people to find and keep work, for creating the environment for people to start their own businesses and thus employ people, and for introducing social justice so that employability, skills and even entrepreneurship do not remain skewed along racial lines. SA, like the rest of the world is experiencing increasing unemployment, we’ve seen the Greek and Spanish youth riot over jobs with generally higher qualifications and less legacy burdens, so the question is what can governments do to spur employment in a difficult time?
Importantly the ANC has a good track-record economically, despite many people’s remonstrations. ANC’s government has recovered all of the jobs that were lost in the 2008 global financial crisis, something even the US still struggles with. Now, the ANC will focus its economic prowess on smashing unemployment, inequality and poverty.
Do you feel opposition parties make democracy stronger or do they just point out what’s wrong with the ANC?
I think their presence does strengthen democracy. I am not sure many of them enhance it though. Outside of grandstanding, very few create platforms or pilot projects where we can see their ideas in action.
What would you say are the biggest problems facing South Africa?
Like any living organism, SA
will outgrow some problems only to inherit others.What is important is to be prepared for whatever challenges come. I wish this wisdom and courage for SA. I think it’s coming soon. When problems are seen not as the end of our world, but another chance to prove our mettle. Today it is personal economics, jobs accountability, public confidence, and yes of course the issues of redress, our past. In the future, it will be problems of identity, culture, integration with African blocks, the quality of our national output and so on… Whatever it is, I am sure we’ll pull through it. We’re a great people.
What are your personal solutions to some of the problems facing the country?
I have come to find that often when I come up with a great idea, a little research reveals it has long been around. I think we have all the tools, and access to enough knowledge to find solutions to our problems.
What do you feel your generation of political leaders can do to ensure that the country moves in the right direction?
Find common ground on SA’s priorities – land and jobs for instance. Prepare for the future by building capacity and competence in public management. Become more accountable to and responsive to our political party supporters, not just political party members. Network young people across different backgrounds and sectors to get sight of the best ideas and talents.
You come from an amazing family, and are part of this incredible legacy as a South African. What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children? Would you encourage them to be in politics?
It would be fitting and make me proud to be able to enhance this legacy of service in some small way. I would try and impart some sense of responsibility for this legacy and the country to my kids. How they exercise that is up to them.
What was the motivation for starting Cheesekids? What does the name mean?
Just wanting to do something meaningful in a fun way with friends. The name means something different from when it started. It meant young people with privilege should play a meaningful part in society. Now it means anyone and everyone can give back, because we all have something to offer.
What are the things you are currently involved in that you feel will make a difference in people’s lives?
I and my comrades in the ANC Youth League task team will be handing over the reigns to an elected leadership soon – I’m excited by that. I remain on the board of Lovelife and am excited by its transformation from HIV AIDS intervention program into a leadership development academy. I’m working on a project that, if successful, will make significant impact in the ethos of our public servants, but it’s early days yet to get into details. Watch this space!
What was your motivation for writing Becoming? (his first book, under the “Youngsters” initiative from Pan Macmillan, a series of pocket books that feature prominent young South Africans)
I’d always wanted to write a book, even a short book. When I got the opportunity to be part of a series of short books I jumped at it. I was grappling with a lot of the thoughts I put down in the book at the time so it was somewhat cathartic.
How does it feel to be a young South African in this, the 20th year of democracy?
Exciting and nerve-wrecking given the weight of the responsibility upon us. Beyond the problems we face now, we must conclude the work that the first independent African states began – consolidation of all the nations of our continent.
Who is the person you most admire? Who has made the most impact in your life?
Many family members, public and private. The African heroes that gave so much for us to still be here and not wiped out like the indigenous peoples of America and Australia. And of course my names sakes (Nkosi) Shaka and (Walter) Sisulu.
Shaka Sisulu is a member of the ANC Youth League task team and also the founder of the Cheesekids organisation, a charity that helped build homes. He can be found on Twitter @shakasisulu
Luso Mnthali is an AfriPOP! contributing editor. Follow her on Twitter.
I think I’ve found the perfect image and unselfconscious expression of what the Carefree Black Girl looks like in this decade. She’s on my Facebook feed; a photograph of a young woman who I only know slightly but who is a model and student. She has that slim body, dark skin, good bone structure and natural hair that announces she’s part of the arty-party crowd in Cape Town. She is in what looks to be an apartment, all soft lighting, good art and muted colors. In the foreground is someone who looks like her—it’s her sister perhaps, a young woman who the Facebook tag shows has the same last name.
The sister’s head is thrown back, her mouth open in one of those smiles you know is all over her body and is in her eyes. Her hands are held palms facing up, arms to the side but wide in an almost embracing stance. She is in thrall to the bubbles all around her. In the background, her sister the model is looking down and smiling, holding a small pink canister. Getting ready to blow more bubbles.
This photograph has today become my symbol of what the carefree black girl is. It just felt like true and pure happiness. I haven’t seen a photograph like this anywhere on my feed. Usually it’s babies and exotic locales. But here was a young woman who wanted you to see her in a state of real, unmanufactured joy. When did you last blow bubbles? (please tell me it wasn’t at a kids’ party?) When did you last just do something you used to do as a child, just because you felt like it? Just because it made you feel happy? If it was recently, and didn’t involve food, or travel, or an amorous relationship – some of the accoutrements of adult life that we’re supposed to have to show that we are happy – then I am afraid that you, dear
one, are in danger of being labelled a care-free black girl.
Not that going out to eat, or traveling and being in love aren’t part of what being a CFBG is, it’s just that I’m searching for the carefree black girl who is unencumbered by the trappings of a “good life”. It can be any life you want it to be, any life it is – I just wanted to see real and spontaneous joy. That’s the kinda girl I was looking for. (Please note for purposes of this post, and how we address each other – CFBGs are mostly women, we know that – but, girl, we use this term as a term of endearment.)
After I saw the model’s photo, I started to think about things that I do that are specific to the Care-free Black Girl attitude. I realized I had not walked alone along the beach in such a long time. Or just walked around town noting faces and recording little things in my mind – keepsakes for later. A lot of my carefree times have involved walks, and mingling with strangers at market stalls, buying hand-crafted goods. When I was growing up in Botswana I would walk everywhere, and then sometimes end up at the market. I bought my sandals and wooden earrings and bracelets from there. I never felt like I had to follow fashion (we lived next door to Apartheid South Africa, fashion was a little bit of a slow thing, and magazines were a luxury or didn’t reflect us at all).
For me this is when I am carefree, in an attitude of just being myself. Freed from the constraints of society, of who people think I am or want me to be. I am just me, and I am happy. If I were to spread out some of the things I have collected on those walks – poems, shells, beaded earrings, leaves, feathers, twigs and stones, it might look a bit strange. Well, those things, they are my little treasures. They have no brand names, they have nothing to do with technology, competition or deadlines. They are beautiful to me, they might not be beautiful to you. I find them ancient, elemental and eternal. When I am free from all the voices I hear on radio, television, in books, online and also just in daily life, I am that carefree black girl. When I am free from their judgements, and my own – I like to think there is a place I can escape to, and that is the place I find on my walks.
There is always something beautiful about the woman who is care-free, living her life on her own terms and managing to have a certain kind of insouciance. Not everyone is this lucky, and I admire the kinds of women who, even with the weight of their particular situations, manage to find humor, beauty and a sense of purpose in life. They create – poems, furniture, clothes, music, magazines, art, hairstyles, homes, houses – any and all things. And while they’re at it, they throw sunshine into the world. They dare. They boldly go where they’ve been told they cannot, where they’ve been told is not a natural habitat for them. They are my hiking, traveling, sailing, running, skiing, surfing, sand-boarding and sky-diving, and selfie-taking and posting sisters. They are my musician, artist, poet, writer, race car driver, actor, dancer and designer sisters. They look out to the world and see the possibilities, not just the limitations. They are brave. Happiness in the face of all that we know and see as black girls requires bravery.
Keep on keeping on Carefree Black Girl. I see you, and I smile and dance, laugh and sing, blow bubbles and do handstands with you. Well, perhaps you can teach me this last one. I was never quite that carefree even in youth. But I’m learning to be, and oh what a joyous, freeing feeling that is.
Luso Mnthali (@lkmnthali) is a contributing editor at AfriPOP!
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!
(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.
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
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!
I can’t wait to hear the message that Beyonces music will impart on me next year when she comes for our 20yrs of liberation celebrations.yay
— KingTha.REDagain (@thandiswamazwai) October 2, 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.
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.
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:
— Zawadi Nyong’o (@ZawadiN) June 18, 2013
“On the 18th of June 2013, the simple croissant became the symbol of anti racism in Kenya!” Andrew Njoroge via fb. #BoycottArtCaffe
— Zawadi Nyong’o (@ZawadiN) June 19, 2013
Some places cashed in on Art Caffe’s spate of bad PR with some smart marketing:
Why worry about Croissants? Just walk in, walk out, 9, 10… or more Croissants, visit any of our 18 branches cc @984inthemorning
— Nairobi Java House (@Nairobi_Java) June 19, 2013
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?