When Junk hits the Fan…

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So we woke up on Wednesday morning to the news that South Africa’s annual economic outlook has been downgraded to 0.5%. Just two months ago, the International Monetary Fund “significantly cut SA’s economic growth outlook for this year from 1.3% to 0.7%, the lowest forecast on record so far”.

We’ve learnt to tighten our belts, then make them tighter and it finally looks like we’re well on our way to spilling our guts just by attempting to breathe. While the global outlook hasn’t been entirely rosy, our internal country politics have tempered so much with our economy that it looks like we are heading to where Zimbabwe was ten years ago.

There seems to be no end in sight to our growing misery. Southern Africa has experienced one of the worst droughts in twenty years, pushing food and commodity prices further up. Turn around and witness the rampant unemployment; the floodgates have opened and the system is clogged with both unskilled and highly educated (read over-qualified) individuals. Add to that growing frustration at cadre deployment and looming downgrade to junk status- we’re  one step closer to hell, really.

Anyway, the best thing we could possibly do under these conditions is to remain positive and adapt. Maybe then we might see things from a better perspective.

Adapt is the word. Arguably, one of the things that affects us the most with rising costs is our relationship with food. Unless one has incredibly deep pockets; our natural response is to shop less or to look for cheaper alternatives. This was the basis of a conversation between two women in the bus (yes, we tend to be the loudest and most chatty…and that’s where I get my news :-)) last week.

With the rise of the black middle class in the past two decades has followed an increased level of serious lifestyle related diseases. If the number of people I know opting for a more active and healthy lifestyle is anything to go by, then healthy seems to be the new sexy. As it should be!

So, the two women in the bus were musing about the obvious high cost of food. One of the women’s colleagues had apparently asserted that she wouldn’t recycle cooking oil because “it made her vomit”. What striked me the most was not this assertion, but the reaction to it. “Who does she think she is?” Didn’t she grow up on recycled oil? Like the rest of us?!  By implication, this seemingly health conscious woman is stuck up and should be saving her money before she saves herself.

I can attest that a lot of us are familiar with that one tub of margarine or cup in the fridge designated to receive cooking oil collected from a thousand meals. If things were really bad, the tub would almost empty. Let’s not forget the consequences for one’s skin after a visit to the vetkoek lady on the corner of the street.

While one Yoruba proverb stating that, “The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine” somehow seems to validate the concerns of the two women in the bus by suggesting that those who have don’t understand the needs of those who don’t -it’s rather narrowed in its analysis.

The lady in question has opted for her current lifestyle because she knows and has experienced what the two have alluded to. Having lived it doesn’t mean she has to merely accept it.

Despite a debate in the office about this being to the contrary, let’s face it-healthy food isn’t cheap. Granted, you can grow your own or cut down on meat in favour of vegetables and fruits but the drought has made even basic necessities a luxury. But is it the poor or the upwardly mobile that are dying from lifestyle diseases or have the attitudes towards food on the different sides created similar consequences?

The biggest irony about the condition of poverty, though, has to be its metamorphosis from something that allowed a lot of elderly people to have “long life” (The gogos in Limpopo still play soccer because they survived on a diet of locusts, termites and leafy vegetables) to a health hazard.

The reality is that the current economic environment is gradually forcing all of us to reconsider priorities and non-essentials. The importance of food in any given circumstance is something that can never be under-estimated. As they saying goes, hunger knows no season.

What’s your take?

G*

 

 

 

 

 

Woman, Wake Up!

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Save for the obvious public blunders by the likes of advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, who made a spectacle of herself at the Constitutional Court hearing in representation of Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete this week; and lest we forget Judge Thokozile Masipa’s blinded bid to save Oscar Pistorius-one would have to admit that women fall short in supporting one another.

Yet again, the defining moment this week has also been the vindication of advocate Thuli Madonsela in the entire Nkandla saga. Sweet. Some of us knew that the day of reckoning would come for a lot of those who sank to the lowest lows by jumping on the bandwagon to shame her, particularly by using her looks as a weapon.

It wasn’t just the men within the you-know-which-governing-party and its alliance partners but, not surprisingly, the women.

Recently, in crowded rush hour traffic, my bus driver was trying to manoeuvre through the nightmarish Jan Smuts Avenue.  An indistinct car happened to stall (or something to that effect) on the road. The driver kept quiet but there was audible chatter in the two seats behind me. The two women said in unison, “O etsang? and ke mosadi!”. Noted.

The second incident happened on the morning of a different day. This time, the bus driver was trying to allow as much people in the bus as possible and requested those in the isle to move further back. He then nonchalantly mentioned to his colleague how “these women”, he said “once they get in the bus- that’s enough, they don’t care about accommodating the next person getting in”. Noted.

So, what’s seems to be the problem here? Nothing new. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie stated in her now famous “Why we should all be feminists” talk how, from childhood, girls are conditioned to compete for the affections of men and to “aspire to marriage” but never for jobs,etc.

This is partly true, but one could go further and suggest that the fight doesn’t end with fighting for men but continues into workplaces, common spaces and any other place we get an opportunity to size each other up. The working relationship of two women is more likely to have different dynamics as compared to that of two men.

This fight is often than not self-defeating and destructive. The truth is, a lot of the time we (and I mean women) support others not because of their need for it…but because it is convenient for us.

In her book  Lean In: Women, work and the will to lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg muses that while women’s professional advancement depends on society (men and women) doing things differently, it’s actually women already in leadership who hold the key to pulling those below to the top.

Sandberg cites that our common experiences and challenges place us in a better position to not only empathise with one another but to also effect sustainable, meaningful change. Yet there aren’t nearly enough women at the top or junior professionals striving for leadership- we’re too busy looking out for ourselves; battling with ourselves and others. We could possibly be our own worst enemies.

The mere recollection of one group supporting a man during his rape trial years ago and marching for his dignity a decade on while being aloof on critical gender issues reveals a sad state of affairs.

Ultimately, we can chant as many slogans as we want and declare a fierce “sisterhood” (and that’s probably a step in the right direction) but until we face the fact that we wouldn’t say anything positive either about a woman who is strong, holds her own and unapologetic about her choices or offer a helping hand to one who seems down and out, all of this will just be white noise.

G*

Dear 2015

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I ought to have known that something was completely off when I started writing less. I lost touch, focusing more on the things that needed to be done than those that truly filled my essence and made me appreciate the beauty of life.

Have I told you how interesting watching people and events from afar is? The things we learn are simply infinite and our differences all the more vibrant. Watching others from a distance is one thing – looking at your own existence is another.

It would appear that the more involved we are with ourselves, the less we see of the world around us. I took a step outside myself and stood at a point where I could see myself for the person I am (and for the person I used to be).

When you are fortunate enough to gain perspective on your own dark side and to witness the monsters that sometimes fester inside, it is an uphill battle to get to higher ground but equally emancipating process.

You were my year to not only gain me, but to also see the world for what it is. I gained me, in so many ways. I lost many people close to me-severed age old friendships and stood in solitude. Pain. None spared. I still realized the world is a wonderful place to be in, and life truly a blessing when you can still change things at every given moment. Aren’t we lucky?

The biggest lesson has been that when you lose some things you gain others. Most of the time, we weep over our losses and lose sight of the good that has come to soothe the pain. My biggest gain was regaining faith in something bigger than myself. That remains my rock. It goes without saying that faith and ultimately, hope, needs to be backed up with action.

I have not deferred from my life’s path and still believe that the best is yet to come. There are still many more things to write about, experiences to live through and skies to soar.

PS: To those who have read my blogs even through my absence, I see you-and I thank you. I hope you find your own way through the maze that is life.

Wishing you a safe holiday season and a kick-ass 2016!

G*

 

 

 

Reputation Matters

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My late teens were arguably the most tumultuous and complex years of my life. There was a lot going on; most of which resulting from the apparent lack of control I had over my life then.

The word “angry” soon became synonymous with my name. The regularity of being called angry bothered me. Did it come from a valid place? Was it true? Could I fix it? Why would I want to fix it?

Yes, I was angry. ‘Probably have been my entire life. I poured most of it out in my journals which proved to be very therapeutic. I knew then what I know now -that you can never be in control of the world’s perception of you.

It also makes one’s life a lot easier to not obsess much about that. Either way, your character will always speak volumes.

An incident that occurred this week brought home the realization that my reputation is important to me. While I may not care how others perceive me in my personal life; I deeply care about how I am perceived in the professional realm. The idea of being relegated to the unreliable and untrustworthy lot got the adrenalin rushing, pulse racing and defense mode on. I needed to save face!

It is important to keep in mind that one’s reputation can make or break them; open doors or keep them closed. Many business people understand that trust is a very important currency in business.

Trust is key to building relationships, advancement and creating viable networks. None of these would pass without a good reputation in place. Hence, a good reputation is invaluable.

It isn’t surprising to see more and more businesses actively enlisting the services of PR agencies for Reputation Management purposes because, simply put-mistrust is costly.

The most recent example is the KFC Braamfontein meat scandal that saw the franchise scrambling to restore its image. They will probably not suffer a great loss of sales, but people will always wonder.

The good news is that a tarnished reputation can be salvaged… with a bit of extra effort.

G*

It ain’t what they call, it’s what you answer to

W.C Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call, it’s what you answer to” (that matters).

Often, we react defensively to the perceptions that other people harbour about us. The degree of that reaction varies, depending on what we know and feel about ourselves. It also relies heavily on how much influence we think the external world has on our lives in general;how much it matters.

I recently listened to Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful talk on why we should all be feminists. Long overdue, since excerpts of it were incorporated into Beyonce’s Flawless many moons ago. Anyway- I took away two points of discussion from the talk:

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  • “Feminist” is usually NOT a compliment- not when it emanates from patriarchal doctrine.
  • Feminists are viewed as angry women, who hate bras and men“.

These points resonated with me because earlier this year, I had a social media encounter with someone I know. This was after he posted a Facebook status stating:

“The Feminist: This type of woman can never be pleased by a man and she believes that men are the cause of all pains and sufferings of society. It is her strong belief that women are much more intelligent than men and are capable of doing things “the right way”. You don’t want to waste any time with this type of woman because anything that you do will always be negative to her.”

I only realised later that it was from a viral “article” on the Types of women men need to stay away from (or something to that effect). Then again, people also tend to share things and information that they relate to in some way or the other; information that could covertly or obviously speak to their own belief and value systems.

So, ‘friend put it out there- what I deemed “sexist babble”. Another young man bravely entered the fray and declared, “(Laughs). I love such women. I take them on and shred them to pieces”. The discussion then proceeded to questions from both men on my own stand against what was clearly a flawed view of Feminism.

The men cried foul, “indoctrination!!” , they said. The feminist woman deserves to be alone. Cry the beloved country!

However, the discussion took on an interesting turn- after explaining to the two gentlemen that feminism, in essence, is not male-centric. It is neither focused on the bashing nor emasculation of men but on the political, economic and social emancipation of women. It is about ensuring that women flourish to their full potential and are afforded equal opportunities.

It was highly amusing when it emerged that neither of the men knew what feminism is. One only decided to do an online search when he realised I was steadfast and confident in my argument (which only comes from knowledge), and admitted that he actually didn’t have a clue. He put the cart before the horse, sadly. I’m still waiting to see myself in pieces. I rest my case!

Studies have shown that the participation of women in the economy could raise GDP substantially. The International Monetary Fund recently released a report titled “Women, Work and the Economy”, which highlights the negative impact of gender inequality  on economic growth.

These are the important discussions we ought to be having, so we can create solutions. However, it appears that the patriarchists and chauvinists are too preoccupied with thoughts of being obliterated off the face of the earth by so-called “angry”, morally bankrupt and aloof women who will render them useless.

Instead of adopting a culture of collaboration at every level, there seems to be a fast decline into senseless competition. There’s now them and us. We’ve completely taken our eyes off the ball to engage in mud-slinging. Unfortunately, most of it comes from a misinformed place.

What do I answer to? -Fairness and equality. Merit and excellence. Integrity and responsibility. What do I NOT answer to?- Anything that seeks to pigeonhole me.

G*

The Elephant in the Room: Can We Really Colour-block the Race Issue?

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”– Steven Bantu Biko

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Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed people around me being on the receiving end of racial slurs which could otherwise be interpreted as ignorant, narrow-minded or narcissistic.

Of course, this isn’t news. Discourse on racial discrimination is an on-going part of South Africa’s history and one is constantly confronted with the reality that the rainbow nation is rather a superficial farce,with tensions simmering underneath.

As opposed to the light-hearted manner in which comedians address stereotypes attached to different racial groups, it is especially challenging to take on the same approach if one emanates from circumstances that render them disadvantaged because of the colour of their skin. You cannot simply laugh it off.

I believe this is what informed US First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech delivered before graduates at Tuskegee University-a speech rendered “anti-American” and racist because it encouraged black graduates to rise above their circumstances.

Again, this won’t materialise if the world keeps skirting around burning issues and viewing any act of motivation towards economic, social and political emancipation for historical victims of racial discrimination as an attack on other groups.

It is, and should be a good fight-a fight for what is just and equitable.

Anyway, if I may back-track a little: On one occassion when someone I know was told that…well, she can’t blush because she is black, she took offense. Without going too far in my own opinion about the individual who uttered the words, I was more inclined to take a step back and remember that people don’t GIVE offense. On the contrary, people TAKE offense in response to a range of perceived offensive stimuli.

More importantly, the realization that dawned on me was that as Africans; as so-called black people we remain sensitive about the colour of our skin. This to the point where it seems an insult to be referred as such by anyone from a different racial background. It suggests that not even the black man is comfortable in his own skin because then the natural response would be “of course I am!

Our self-hatred rings even clearer when we attack migrants from the continent (and unwittingly our own compatriots) based on the perception that they are too “dark” to be South Africans. Therefore, most of our lives are spent in a defensive and trust deficient mode.

The reality is that the world’s expectation of the black man is to “deal with it”- and that is, of course paramount if our desire is to start building a positive legacy for future generations. However, it shouldn’t be a rushed process that will allow historical oppressors to feel better about themselves. It is a process that will require (without shame or justification) constant and consistent messaging around positive change.

At the same time we must be wary of allowing a defeatist attitude to fester.

In the words of Steve Biko, “Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being”.

G*

 

 

 

Freedom Comes With Responsibility #NoToXenophobia

These statues, mounted at the National Heritage Project’s offices yesterday couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

When our country is this volatile, it is important to reflect on where we come from…

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Cissie Gool and Abdullah Abdurrahman

Zainunnisa “Cissie” Gool was an anti-apartheid political and civil rights leader in South Africa. She was the daughter of prominent physician and politician Abdullah Abdurahman.

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According to the South African History Resource, Chief Langalibalele was “known as ‘Long Belly’ by Sir Garnet Wolesley, who could ‘never spell his infernal barbarian cognomen’. Langalibalele’s rebellion caused a crisis in Natal. It was described as ‘the most wonderful case of blunders for men past infancy to have made’ and strengthened Carnarvon’s case for confederation.”

Chief Langalibalele

Lest we forget what it took to attain our freedom; the liberties we enjoy today are indeed the culmination of collective efforts in and outside our national borders. Until we free ourselves from our mental chains and truly begin to see the world as a place that holds infinite possibilities through collaboration, then we will never be truly “free”.

Fight or Flight?

It is a hot day in Johannesburg. Just past midday, it feels like one has entered hell’s kitchen. It is ridiculously hot when one considers how nippy it’s been sometimes.

A refreshing stroll down Jorrissen in the hub of Braamfontein has done wonders for my current mental state. Relief is the word.

So, I get into a taxi and bargain with the driver to take me up Jan Smuts and he obliges. I thank him profusely, grateful that I can get back to the office on time.

Sitting on the passenger seat is a woman. I now realize she is his girlfriend. A moment ago, I was oblivious to the tension building up in the air- I had just entered a battleground.

A fervent exchange of words in Xitsonga takes place right before my eyes and at best I attempt to avoid the commotion. I’m bolstered back into reality by the driver slapping the woman with the back of his hand. “Oh no, oh NO!!” What is happening? What do I do?? I sit there. Shocked. I do nothing, say nothing. A short trip has turned into a long one.

On the 9th of March, the news of Nkululeko “Flabba” Habedi’s tragic death spread through our media pores like wildfire. In what is speculated to have been a lover’s argument, Flabba was fatally stabbed through the heart by his girlfriend.

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“A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa, a probable underestimate because no perpetrator is identified in 20 percent of killings, according to a study […] co-authored by Professor Rachel Jewkes of the South African Medical Research Council” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/08/south-africa-violence-against-women_n_2837804.html

Whether this in response to already existing abuse or mishandling by their spouses, the numbers of women languishing in prison for serious crimes such as murder and attempted murder tells another story.

This is the harsh reality many live with on a daily basis. Some live with the scars while some never get to tell their story. What would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a violent altercation?

As incensed as I felt, I chose to not get involved. It was a selfish decision- I thought of my child and what would become of her in the event that I interfered in the affairs of total strangers- only to lose my life in the process.

I thought of my own upbringing and remembered the violence in it; and how damaged I am. I also thought how dangerous it is (can be) to get caught up in other people’s vicious cycle of upswings and turbulence.

My experience with physical violence has made me wary of anything that smacks of- or comes close to violence. It has completely dis-empowered and weakened me and I’m afraid I won’t be a martyr. I am a coward.

Some say we attract who we are. Therefore, how we feel- and what we believe about ourselves reflects in the world around us. We ultimately draw people who can sense our insecurities (and whom are insecure themselves) into our lives without even knowing it.

Sometimes we pay dearly for this…

…In my mother’s words: “Gaabo legatlapa ga go lliwe”.

 

 

Give and Take- What are we missing?

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The idea -and act- of giving is my passion. I have written about it on many of my blogs because it is something I value- not only in myself but in others as well. I believe if one is able to give (read share) then they’ve realized the value of a purpose driven life.

I admire individuals who give effortlessly, selflessly and without expecting a pat on the back. For this reason,it never ceases to amaze me when someone gives to another and broadcasts it to the world. An awkward incident occurred on my birthday last month, that really took me aback and made me realize that…well, we are cut from different cloths sometimes.

As the recipient of a particular gift, it was extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing to have someone announce to people around what they had presented to me on the day. Very unnecessary.

A profound tweet was posted this week: “Don’t eat with someone who is going to brag about feeding you”. It summarizes what I deem to be narcissism in  some people. This is primarily because ideally the onus should be on the recipient to show gratitude in their own manner. In all honesty, making utterances like “I gave someone X amount of money to do YZ” or “I gave Gomo’ XY because blah blah” is very distasteful.

Perhaps that is why Corporate Social Responsibility seems to be a bit of a farce. It is said that, “CSR policy functions as a self-regulatory mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law [and] ethical standards”.

Today CSR is firmly entrenched in many corporates (and it is a good thing, don’t get me wrong) and they can donate a few things to the disadvantaged, take a few snaps and get some publicity out of it. The more the better, so they can see we genuinely have the interests of society at heart.

Perhaps they can be forgiven because they need to do some sort of reporting? Then again, CSR is also linked to business objectives- which means the more a company is seen to be doing good, the more likely it is to get more business: that’s capitalism giving us the middle finger.

I reckon there is a significant difference between giving because one has to- as opposed to one being inclined to. Motivation is a defining factor and ultimately determines whether an act of giving is genuine. Otherwise it is nothing but an attention seeking, point scoring and meaningless gesture.

What does “giving” mean to you? Let me leave you to mull on this with the words of Mother Teresa, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

 

Ode to Bongani “B” Mahlangu

I reckon that sometimes it is necessary to get out of the ordinary scheme of things; to escape normality and do things differently.

Today is one such day for me; an opportunity to pay tribute to a man who believed in me so much that he went to all lengths to make sure that my dreams became reality.

Ours is a relationship that began in 2011 following an article I had written as an unemployed graduate. Through him, I was given the opportunity to go on radio and tell my story. Doors opened as I was also able to gain access to one of the most formidable men in the Coaching fraternity, Mongezi Makhalima– who served as an invaluable life guide.

Both taught me that it’s important to have vision, drive and determination because it makes it easier for people to support you.

We show gratitude in different ways: We cry, salute and smile. Sometimes words escape us and we don’t know how to say “thank you”- not sure if it’s enough at all. I guess the greatest lesson that Bongani has taught me is that the rewards of giving are greater than the rewards of receiving. Giving of your time, resources, networks and knowledge can benefit others ten-fold (even more).

Especially important is that the baton gets passed on and they also give of themselves to others in need. That is how better societies are built!

To Bongani…Words can never be enough to express how proud I am to be associated with you and to learn from you. You did way more than you needed to for a stranger and now you are family. Ndo livhuwa nga maanda!