Dawn of the Lilliput Rides…

funny_3d_design_car_toon-

While waiting for my lift home sometime during this past week, my eyes wondered about the taxi rank across the street. Standing in this place for a period longer than necessary can make one vulnerable to unsolicited attention as well as comments from hormonal juveniles, hobos and men alike.

Let’s not forget those rude Brits women who ask about one’s hair without even so much as a greeting, “So, your dreadlocks, O di entse kae?”  It is no surprise that I became a little impatient.

Alas, there is always a chance of seeing something intriguing here once in a while. For a good five minutes I looked on in amazement as one “divo” strut his stuff down the small hill, you just gotta love the confidence (maybe even over-compensation) that comes with being gay sometimes. I chuckled under my breath at the sight, but with hindsight realise my silliness.

Something else caught my attention as I stood sandwiched between two cars. To my right, a couple was conversing over the roof of their car deciding what to buy from the KFC behind me. On their way back, the woman put the take-always on the roof of the car. Their car: Their red, neat, nifty, little car. Cute. Aren’t they all sooo cute, these “city cars”? Don’t we just love the swift manner in which they manoeuvre in traffic, hmm…anyone? Nay, they are absolutely horrendous!

While the couple went about their business, I retorted silently, “That’s not a car!” Said my car-less, broke ass self while eyeing a Cherokee SRT 8 making a turn at the robot. Yeah, I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing me swoon over this masterpiece. Talk about beggars wanting to be choosers. However, aren’t we all arm-chair critics of sorts at some point? –we think our favourite soccer team should have done better on a particular game, we pace up and down the living room shouting obscenities at the coach feeling confident that we can do a better job given the opportunity.

By no means am I ridiculing anyone who owns a Ford Ka or Daihatsu Charade (what a name!), Citröen C1 or even a Chevy Spark. No. Human beings are prone to making bad choices at one point or the other, you know? There is a market for those, and a growing one at that. After all one is likely to make it to work on time driving one of these in the nightmarish Jo’burg traffic than in a fuel guzzling ML65 though I’m certain a trip to the lowveld will feel like a voyage to India.

Still, I can’t help but cringe every time I see a city car drive past; that neat package with an interior so tightly packed you’d think it’s made to carry only anorexics and midgets around. Yet grown men squeeze themselves in these things it’s unbelievable-and please don’t get me started on them being ‘women’s cars’ because as a matter-of-fact we also like ‘em big, stable, fast and mean. Who are they made for, exactly?

Asian car manufacturers can’t be solely blamed for the amount of carbon emissions as it’s obvious who the real culprits are, and we can applaud them for making cars accessible to people who would otherwise not be able to afford them. It’s their Lilliput inspired formula that I find disturbing, as if we are going back to the bicycle era…or are we?  More cars on the road mean more car accidents, more traffic jams, and more erratic drivers. My concern is that these cars are getting smaller with some lacking grossly in the safety features department. Some things just shouldn’t be compromised. You choose.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review

EIGHT DAYS IN SEPTEMBER: THE REMOVAL OF THABO MBEKI

FRANK CHIKANE

Unfortunately, one other thing that I have carried around in my bag for months (very unnecessary) was a senior colleague’s copy of Reverend Frank Chikane’s book. One would have thought that yours truly would have finished the book in the blink of an eye judging by the initial excitement at having it lent to me and for reasons pertaining to the book not being mine.

Though I also subscribed to a book club, I admit-sheepish grin in tow- that all I have done is watch that stack of books pile up on my shelf. Oh, they are no longer on my shelf by the way, had to move them to the closet instead so they wouldn’t gather any more dust. It has been proven that South Africans do very little reading, for one reason or the other, which is why there are various NGOs and NPOs running reading and literacy projects across the country [Please see links below] to encourage active reading.

Though I suspect book reviews on this blog will be few and far between -because the author employs a devastatingly slow reading pace- I solemnly swear to do my best.

One of the first things to come to mind as I picked up this book to read was the sombre memories of the “recalling” of former statesman, Thabo Mbeki. You best be advised that South African politicians have some of the most interesting vocabulary, so the use of BIG words is a prerogative in these circles. What the hell does the word ‘recall’ mean, anyway? A polite way to say, “You’re fired”?

Though I was, quite simply, one of those people who had grown tired of Mbeki’s bully antics in government, his monopolising of law enforcement bodies; his almost naked defence of corrupt former police commissioner Jackie Selebi and the disbandment of the Scorpions, nothing could have prepared South Africa-or Mbeki himself- for the humiliating manner in which he was “recalled” from his presidential seat. This politically tumultuous period is the very matter covered by Rev. Frank Chikane. He captures the mood of the period acutely in writing that the president’s official residence

-“[was] full of comrades and some family members …some wept in disbelief at what had happened and others pondered why he could not be allowed to finish his term of office…Greeting them was as much of a challenge  as doing so in a bereaved family.”

The premise of the book rests on his personal experience of that period, having been hurled into the storm in his position as Director-General (DG) in the Presidency, as Mbeki’s confidant and comrade. Mostly, he makes reference to the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and Mbeki. The book also covers the transition that the entire country had to witness as one sitting president was swapped for another. However, Mbeki’s leadership style and significantly, his (at times tainted) legacy, remains the common thread running throughout.

Here are some of the things that stood out for me; a lot of which kept me nodding in concurrence (hint hint, BIG word). One of the critical things that the ANC continues to overlook is, as alluded to by Chikane, that the liberation movement was the means to an end, and not merely an end in itself. Perhaps then the complacency, greedy personal agendas and large-scale rot reflected in the media is a result of the comfortable position the ruling party believes it has carved amongst the majority of the populace.

The beast reared its ugly head in Polokwane, 2007, where Mbeki contended for a third term against then favourite deputy-president of the ANC Jacob Zuma. Though Chikane maintains that Mbeki is a man of principle, it is hard to understand why he was willing do like many other African leaders who just wouldn’t let democracy run its course. This is perhaps the reason why ANC top brass spared little brutality upon ousting him.

The urgency with which the ANC wanted Mbeki out is clear through the fact they cared very little about his impending international engagements. It is clear that the most important thing was getting rid of Mbeki and getting revenge though a lot of processes could have, in real terms, taken months to wrap up. An example of this is the hand-over process that the president had to do, moving from the official residence, the provision for the sorting of high level classified or declassified state information, etc. Yet there was pressure and demand for it to be done in less than a week.

Needless to say, Mbeki obliged and followed through on the ANC’s demands though it is clear that this was emotionally taxing for him, for those who served him and those who were loyal to him. He also remained a member of the party though some of his loyalists, like Mosiuoa Lekota staged an exodus to form a splinter party. I guess the one thing that is disturbing is that some people were victimised because of their relationship with Mbeki but that, I suppose, is the very nature of politics.

Chikane also speaks about former president Kgalema Motlanthe who held the fort for the seven months after Thabo Mbeki’s recall. The irony is that the former could very well be the country’s next president. How often does a former president become president again? Seriously though, Motlanthe is depicted here as someone who was very helpful and accommodating to Mbeki and the immediate staff that had to run his affairs; someone who was a reluctant but very capable leader and cadre of the movement.

The reverend remains fair in his depiction of Mbeki, especially because he is aware and admitted therefore that Mbeki was not perfect, that some things could have been done differently. Mbeki’s legacy is an admirable one, especially in terms of the African Renaissance, putting South Africa in a strategic position for trade and investment opportunities, etc. Fortunately no one can “recall” that legacy.

Links:

  • Vulindlela Reading Clubs

www.littlehandstrust.org.za/

  • Project Illiteracy

www.projectilliteracy.org.za

  • The Readers Society of South Africa

www.charitysa.co.za/the-readers-society-of-south-africa.html

  • The family Literacy Project

www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=13&programme=43

  • World Vision South Africa

www.worldvision.org.za

Marabi, Where For Art Thou?

I often tell people that I suspect I may have a sixth sense. I have to say that I’m beginning to believe my own hype unfortunately when it comes to this. Why? It so happened that one particular weekend-this past one, actually- I had a merry conversation with my family about the hawkers in Marabastad. For those dummies who don’t know what that is, I would simply say that it is a sphere of overflowing activity that has been there long before some of us were born.

Located just East from the Pretoria CBD, approximately -25° 44′ 21.38″ and +28° 10′ 34.39″ on the map- the place many lovingly refer to as “Marabi” is a melting pot of Asian, Arab, Ethiopian, Mozambican, Zimbabwean and of course South African flavours amongst others. This is perhaps why some view it with disdain, the fact that it is only but a stone’s throw away from the Marabastad Home Affairs office which overflows with scores of asylum and refugee seekers on any given morning. I cannot say I have not lifted my nose up in disgust on many occasions, having witnessed the painstaking manner in which fresh produce is mixed with rot and the pungent smell of urine that completely arrests the senses.

My comical imitation (met with resounding laughter from my family) of the men and women who have, for years, gone up and down this congested hub began with a poke at the man who merrily gives me a smile every day. He energetically sells his goods; soft drink, chips and yoghurt (and maybe a pint of beer as he sometimes claims to do), shouting, “Mayo! Cold Drink! diZimba!” as he jumps from one taxi to the other.

Then there are those Nyaope smoking boys who do it with, albeit, less enthusiasm. I suppose we have the drug concoction to blame for that stuck-in-a-time-warp, slow tone they use and apparent lack of…ehm, enthusiasm. They do it nonetheless. On a daily basis the women here diligently make coffee and prepare food for the many people who pass by en route to various other destinations- and for the taxi drivers. This is how I have come to know this place -the Asiatic Bazaar, they call it- commuting daily to and from work. My sister will probably have more of a story to tell since she travelled through this humanoid jungle for twelve months before I could.

We did however, have a similar story to tell about the entrepreneurial spirit that seemingly runs through the Marabastad hawker community. I had watched with awe during the early weeks of my work life how each one of those individuals took it in their stride-business as usual come rain or shine. I put off writing about them because I lacked the creative space and simply failed to make time. I wanted to tell the story in pictures: A story of adversity meeting determination, the presence of the kind of zeal and drive that unemployed graduates of this country are often encouraged to possess. Needless to say I carried my camera around for days on end, what do they say about procrastination…?

no more…

Monday morning was eerily silent as the taxi dutifully rolled past the largely oriental markets. The women weren’t there. There were no fires burning, no smoke billowing in the air. No goods. No fruits and vegetables in sight. No trading stalls. Nothing but eerie silence. This wasn’t the place I had become so familiar with, so accustomed to. I hear the police ransacked the place, burning stalls and confiscating stock. Nothing spared.

Support for the municipality’s action came from an unlikely source, Humbulani, a taxi driver working on the Bosman route said that up until now they had nowhere to park taxis. “Look,” he said. “These boys sleep here at night, in the morning they are busy pushing spinach trolleys.” He pointed out to a now barren parking lot. On discussing this with my mother she mentioned how clean cities and towns were back in the apartheid era; how the state made sure there was no loitering and littering, now things are almost at a chaotic state.

I concurred with my father who highlighted that these people were warned before those unfortunate removals, perhaps more than once. While welcoming the prospect of a cleaner and greener environment, I can’t help but shudder at what this means for families that depended on those small enterprises. I can’t help but imagine the loss incurred by the dispossession of livelihoods. Though necessary, those barren pavements and walk-ways have left a tinge of sadness in my own heart. Marabi was a sitting time bomb and this week, it exploded. It was only a matter of time.