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*

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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*

 

 

 

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”.

 

 

He’s Ben 10, What’s Your Superpower?

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So over the weekend I decided to watch the film Their Eyes Were Watching God, an adaptation of the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Of course for the umpteenth time, but then again a good movie never goes out of style.

So Janie decides to get herself a man twelve years her junior- or rather, he happens to her! I suppose love does come in shapes and sizes, and it’s not quite what we anticipate at times. Obviously, the entire town watches the love affair with great intrigue and expects it to go downhill. After all, she’s the revered mayor’s wife and he just a hood-rat; probably looking for a quick buck.

What I also did was to look at websites catering to the infamous Cougar and found Gerry Ellenon writing candidly on the “10 Rules of Dating a Younger Man”. Ten Rules. I thought how strange it is that such rules exist; more like breeding a Maltese Poodle or something! What a lot of work these Ben 10’s are…“Keep exercising and eating well, do Yoga and meditate”- Be impressed and supportive BUT please- DON’T MOTHER HIM!

Personally, I’ve never encountered as many rules being applicable to Sugar-daddies- if they give them a second thought anyway. The rule of thumb is simple : Just have deep pockets, the rest will follow. So, one gets the sense that the older, more confident woman without much hang-ups is really nothing but a facade.

Anyway, I’ve never understood the allure of a younger man. This is simply because of my bossy nature and knowing how being in that situation would push me to be domineering. Besides this, I’ve always been of the opinion that sex begins in the mind before it wanders off elsewhere.

It’s been scientifically proven that women’s brains mature faster than men’s. Mental stimulation is underrated when in fact it is a significant factor that can determine the longevity of a relationship. Therefore, maturity is non-negotiable.

Playing mum to a full-grown man isn’t all that appealing to yours truly I’m afraid and gets in the way of any advancement toward a “real” relationship.I hear this is sexy in some circles- many more circles than we are aware of these days. Again, a (huge) part of older women’s attraction to younger men is the sex. Nothing makes a cougar’s heart beat faster than virility, abs, energy, enthusiasm; it’s crazy 🙂

One cannot deny the huge ego boost that comes from getting the nod from someone younger- it gives you the feeling of relevance and that you haven’t become a fossil- just yet. It provides motivation for one to be more aware of themselves, to groom well etc: Things we should be doing for our own benefit anyway! So, while the heat is bound to fizzle at some point for some; for others it’s a dizzying fairytale- Just ask aus Monkie! 😉

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Different strokes for different folks, they say.

Witchcraft, The Money-Spinner

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God is BIG business. If you don’t believe me, ask any preacher or prophet or son of God in any charismatic denomination and you’ll have your answer. You can also look no further than Mfonobong Nsehe’s profiling of the Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria . Theirs are religious franchises- think Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy, David Oyedepo’s Living Water World Outreach Ministry, etc.

The former reminds me of my varsity years when fellow-students had a knack for doing that distinctive hairstyle that looked like an entire jar of gel was used on the hair (to mimic Oyakhilome’s, I suppose) and with the latter I recall the period just before Y2K when some were happy to swap their frilly Sunday skirts for jeans to church.

The age of men and women of the cloth living near-pauper existences seems to be a thing of the past. Nsehe sums it up nicely by writing, “…while the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost; offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders…”

For me, this brings memories of sitting in church a few months ago with about twenty Rand in my purse-my last money- wondering if it would be enough to pay for the second of two offerings in one service (plus tithe). There were also subtle threats that one’s blessings would be locked up somewhere if tithe is not paid.

On about two occasions that I sat in that church, one couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just switched on to a sales channel as the prophet brought out the big guns: A bottle of ‘holy’ perfume that he endorsed for being able to help one attract a divine partner and any other opportunity one desired. He also brought out a bottle of anointed oil, originally bottled as a combination of olive & other essential oils from Checkers. Yep, that green bottle behind the pew. No less than R 100 a pop.

As the witchcraft trilogy comes to conclusion, I am reminded of Newton’s third Law of motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the belief in witchcraft, -while for years has filled the coffers of traditional/witch-doctors through individuals who sought to ‘protect’ themselves and/or cause harm to others- also created a gap in the spiritual “market” which continues to be exploited by charismatic evangelists.

Sitting among a group of people during deliverance and hearing some bizarre testimonies, as well as a conversation with a very religious friend of mine proved just how seriously witchcraft is taken. Since I couldn’t point a finger at anyone specific for my apparent ‘misfortune’ (nobody had been killed by my prayers) I had to wonder if witchcraft mechanics fear big city lights; whether they prefer to roam around in the still darkness that characterizes most villages instead.

An article by BBC Africa Live states that witchcraft has, for many years played a role in rebellions, fighting wars and possibly found its way into every nook and cranny of society. This has made the success of charismatic churches an easy one, as they laugh all the way to the bank for commodifying God and identifying a spiritual gap that conventional churches seemingly can’t fill.

Most importantly, the charismatic movement continues to appeal to the need for instant gratification that a lot of people have. For some, money is no issue if they can get their divine partner, marriage, money, or if they can get those haters off their backs. Many are attracted by the idea of attaining things they haven’t worked a day in their lives for; many are desperate for miracles. Are they any different to a person who visits a traditional doctor to achieve the same result? Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

I believe that a lot of people cannot deal with their reality, especially if it turns out to be less than desirable. I also believe that one’s overall perception can be affected by that. Some resort to extreme measures, others look to faith and others remain despondent. In all situations every action has consequences.

It would be naïve for anyone to assume that there aren’t things bigger than us-(good or bad) or people who always stand to gain from others’ misfortune – yet we must always remember that the universe works in our favour once we learn to be the masters of our individual destinies.

In closing, consider this Bible verse: Matthew 7:15

 

Witchcraft, the Scapegoat

Despite the infamous Oscar Pistorius murder trial gradually shifting out of our collective psyche because we’ve just generally grown weary from all the waiting, it has served as an interesting lesson in-among other things- scapegoating.

Having browsed some texts where commentators posed the hypothetical question on what would have been had Oscar been Black; would he get the same kind of media coverage? Would he get a TV channel dedicated to him? Would he even be allowed to undergo psychiatric evaluation as an out-patient? Hell, would he have been able to afford the million bucks bail? I’d have to say that those are interesting but not particularly useful questions.

It has been rather intriguing how Pistorius has shifted the blame to everyone but himself for some of the events that have occurred in his life; from estranged friends, to the burglar in the toilet and his hand (God forbid it has a mind of its own!) for pulling the trigger. Never himself. Still, one can’t help but wonder whether a black Pistorius would have at least one more avenue to exploit. Perhaps he would believe in a third force, supernatural elements? Would he also blame witchcraft for his ‘misfortune’? Who knows!

Dwight D. Elsenhauser once said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions”. Indeed it is easier for most people to shift blame to someone/thing else when backed up against a corner or when the heat gets turned up. While the assumption of responsibility forces one to take a hard look in the mirror and to confront the ugly truth, scapegoating on the other hand lends a comfortable cushion that allows the user convenient ignorance and denialism.

Human beings are interesting creatures, we love taking responsibility for all the good things that occur in our lives but rarely do the same with the undesirable, bad stuff. My last post discussed how deeply entrenched witchcraft belief is in our society (and in many other African countries as well). If you’ve been following the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre of 2012 you would have heard Mr “X”’s testimony about the extent to which supernatural belief played a role in the occurrence of gruesome and sadistic rituals carried out by miners in the run-up to the tragedy.

Not only did those beliefs prove fatal for security guards and policemen killed before, but ultimately for the miners themselves in believing they were invincible- a double-edged sword. There are many reasons why people believe in witchcraft, if we define witchcraft as acts of evil done purposely with the intent to harm others.

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However, there are two overriding factors that make the top of the list, that is, one is either successful or not. Success defined in terms of material, the reverence of community members, social status, etc. The former will believe that there are people who aren’t happy with that success and therefore will work towards causing harm or reversing this. The latter will believe that their lack of progress in life is a result of some supernatural conspiracy.

I can neither confirm nor deny. However, I can relate a personal story about being taken to a Nigerian prophet known for assisting people with these “things”. I clearly remember the look on my old man’s face as he told us of other-worldly things-stuff beyond us. It was shortly after my cousin dropped by to show us his new car.

There we were, my sister and I, in our mid-twenties (okay, late twenties in my case). Willing and able post-graduates. Unemployed. Stuck. Like hundreds of thousands of other graduates in this country. Somebody was panicking and it wasn’t either of us. I suppose witches were/are working over-time then? Never mind the socio-economic milieu or the level of corruption in our midst, there was something new we could seriously consider as the root and cause of our stagnation. It was someone else; someone close, the prophet said on our first meeting. Great!

Nervous conditions can create fertile ground for suspicion and paranoia, which may prove dangerous for people who are wrongfully accused of committing witchcraft. In the article “Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa are ignored, DamonLeff writes, “South Africa faces a growing refugee crisis as many victims of witchcraft accusation who survive assault are forcibly expelled from their communities by community leaders, traditional leaders and traditional healers, sometimes after being tried in traditional courts and found guilty through divination alone…

It is during the state of panic that a man’s character is revealed. When faced with the option of fight or flight, a lot of people choose the latter; which means we do not get the opportunity to explore the depth of our resilience…

Witchcraft: The Naked Story

I’ve been mulling over the subject of witchcraft for a while now; probably weeks on end. I guess it’s   pretty tough trying to wrap one’s head around things you’ll probably never understand. It’s worse when they are as old as time because, it would seem the more you try to understand the less you know. So, what do you do? Do you stop questioning, or keep pushing the lid? I choose the latter.

As I was sitting on a taxi headed back home one Friday evening next to an elderly woman, her phone rang, playing Umanji’s Moloi. I thought; what a rather odd song to load as a ringtone and…what a coincidence! All of this happening presented me with an uneasy predicament: I wondered whether this old woman really liked the song because of its catchy tune or that she genuinely identified with the content- that perhaps she felt vindicated by the song, somehow.

Umanji, the late South African folklore singer who was born in Zebediela, Limpopo province warns in the song “Witch” against people destroying each other unnecessarily with false assumptions. In this case, it is the idea that the witch is embodied by old; ugly and unkempt women. Conversely, he asserts that it is the college-going bunch that is beautiful and, seemingly harmless, that one must beware of.

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The late 1990s presented South Africa with a wave of witch-hunts, especially in Limpopo. Paging through that tabloid some of us love to hate on any given day gives one the impression that it hasn’t stopped. What’s clear is that the belief in the existence of the supernatural is firmly entrenched in many corners of our country.

Described by Media for Justice as, “a publication notorious for publishing untested rumour and unexamined accusations and allegations regarding the supernatural” Daily Sun is probably (at face value) a newspaper for the guy who’s lazy to read. It is not hard to imagine the guy at the bottom of the food chain having it in hand, whether for the purpose of reading or using it as toilet paper. It takes flak in intellectual conversations, if it even makes it there in the first place. Who in the upwardly mobile department wants to be associated with ‘nonsense’?

The truth is the belief in witchcraft seeps into many spheres. Although predominant in rural areas, its reach is indiscriminate with respect to social or financial status. It goes beyond religious commitment, education or even age. Of course much of the intent of religion is to fight spiritual warfare and therefore acknowledges that evil in its many forms exists side by side with good.

The most recent case in point is that of a senior cabinet reportedly embroiled in a messy divorce with his ex-wife. According to The Times, accusations of witchcraft and/or the “causing of witchcraft practices and rituals to be conducted” in their home were levelled against the respondent.

Now, I’ll have to admit that I’ve laughed off some rather absurd-sounding things like people being able to purchase lightning and other sinister things  destined for unsuspecting victims for as little as fifty bucks from openly public places like taxi ranks.

But some of the stories I have heard among peers and old folk alike can make for some chilling experience and quickly dampen the mood. One person recounted how they witnessed someone stark naked in another’s house in the dead of night. Manala, MJ explains that “The essence of witchcraft and sorcery is the causing of harm to persons or property by invisible means”. So “go tshwarega” is an expression describing a perceived witch being caught in the act, and possibly not being able to flee the scene. It is common belief that witches turn against their own people as opposed to strangers and driven by envy, malice and jealousy.

In all respects it is not easy to gauge the extents to which people can go when they feel that life has dealt them unfair blows in comparison to others. Therefore, it is easy to dismiss the belief in witchcraft as nothing more than unfounded accusations and rumours that could be averted by educating certain groups of people. Unfortunately, the issue runs far deeper and has created other societal challenges like ritual killings for muti and the sale of body parts.

It makes one realise that just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it does not exist. In the same breath, it’s all the more clear that whatever one believes manifests. Such irony…

 

 

 

 

A Step Back In Time

A love letter from Napolean Bonaparte to his love Joséphine de Beauharnais:

 

I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil.

Sweet incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart!

Yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire?

Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

 

Now, I know Valentine’s has passed its sell-by date for this year therefore cheapskates amongst us will have to wait next year to buy fake roses, illustrious mugs and other frivolous novelties. Imagine that; a freakin’ coffee mug in the middle of summer?! Well, that’s just life.

Anyway that’s beside the point. The past week or so has been an interesting one, especially because it gave me a bit of faith that chivalry (and I’m not referring to the wholesale hogwash we have to endure on February 14th) hasn’t kicked the bucket- just yet.

So I recently witnessed an acquaintance receive a stunning bunch of red roses on a crisp Monday morning. We’ll just keep guessing why because these days we are told that nothing’s for mahala (free) but at least two things can be ruled out. It wasn’t Valentine’s and it wasn’t her birthday. So, there is at least one guy out there in the universe who knows his thing. The brother deserves a Bell’s!

As it would occur, I hadn’t the faintest idea the following day would have a surprise in store for moi. Yes. A neatly folded love letter pushed under my door awaited me as I arrived from the office: The kind of letter that would put the likes of monsieur Bonaparte to shame. Hand-written. Check. Cheesy poem. Check. I solemnly swear my intention is not to make fun of anybody, least of all the guy who wrote that (long) note.

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I reckon it’s a special thing to be the recipient of a hand-written, properly thought-out letter in this day and age. I suppose the most probable reason it ended up under my door is because someone didn’t have my digits, otherwise I could have easily received a text to this effect: “I DIG U” –or something similar- in my inbox.

All that cheesy stuff left me rather red in the face. The sort of admiration that drives people to leave notes in strategic places can be sweet but a little…unsettling. It did take me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane when letter writing was still in style. That was way back when one would write the same letter over and over again, ensuring the penmanship was faultless. Perhaps you would sprinkle a little cheap body spray there for added effect, to enhance daydreaming.

It brought back memories of mother scolding me in primary school after she had found a letter from a boy in my dress pocket. Even of a time when another boy, in middle school got his cousin to write me sweet nothings inside a Sanlam card. So priceless.

Susan Tardanico writes that, “as human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication”. More importantly, Tardanico emphasizes that with all the powerful social technologies at our disposal, we are more connected –and potentially more disconnected- than ever before.

And so my response to my new found admirer was a simple, “writing is not old-fashioned”. In fact, it is a breath of fresh air from the hybrid texting that we have comfortably adopted into every sphere of life. Hand-writing is one of those things we take for granted when it could easily tell a story about an individual. It can reveal if they are clumsy, hasty or careful, thoughtful and neat. The only thing we are able to tell is whether someone is lazy or not, determined by whether they’ll type “Um cumn ta C U” or “I am coming to see you”. Then again, we care very little about anything these days!

 

 

Conversations about Blood and Water…

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The late Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”. The world watched with a mixture of shock and intrigue as the Mandela clan played out their squabbles in public months before his death. We were at a loss when the nonagenarian passed on; and witnessed through the media as the drama and tense relations between family members persisted.

Our fixation with that family grew increasingly as Tata’s last will and testament was publicly read, opening it up to scrutiny; the discourse naturally spilling into the social media sphere.

Drafting one’s last will and testament is probably the most sensible exercise any of us can undertake in our lifetime. But it remains one of those things that people neglect. It really is funny how a piece of legal documentation can be interpreted as a measure of how the deceased loved each one of those left behind as opposed to one that could be instrumental in averting possible conflict over assets.

That, of course, is an ideal situation. In reality, wills can be manipulated and contested by those with vested interest in the deceased’s estate, which can result in long drawn out legal battles. The contents may also be changed by the testator to reflect their emotional state in terms of their relationship with any of the beneficiaries. Who can forget the infamous family dispute over oil magnate J. Howard Marshall II’s $ 1.6 billion estate by his wife Anna Nicole Smith and son, E. Pierce Marshall?

Judging by the responses on social networks on half of Mandela’s estate being left to his surviving partner, his wife Graça Machel and sensationalist reporting on Winnie “getting nothing”– many weren’t happy. To exacerbate the situation, Machel’s children (and step-children) benefitted from Tata’s estate. One has to ask; what is wrong with that? Surely when they say sa gago ke sa me- Sa me  ke sa gago (What’s mine is yours) in reference to the institution of marriage, then it couldn’t have been done more pragmatically?

Writing on the Challenges of Step-families, Linda Schaefer states that, “the problems of a second [or third] marriage are more complicated, since more people, relationships, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs are involved.”

Look, let’s not sugar-coat anything- raising step-children is tricky. I recall a conversation with a good friend of mine who was raised by a single mother. He grew up having men who weren’t his father around him. One, in particular wanted to be “the man of the house” and what resulted was a tug-of-war in the home; an experience that has negatively affected how my friend relates to relationships and the prospects of raising someone else’s child.

For those presented with step-parenting, it can mean either having their attempts at affection thrown back in their faces or having to face entrenched expectations that the child will be mistreated anyway because of the absence of a biological bond. I find it rather peculiar that the same society that can decry constant threats to children’s livelihoods, including abuse of all kinds, is one that deems it okay –without reservation-for someone to exclude his spouse’s children (by default, his children) from his estate.

What does this reveal about the “soul” of our society? Sometimes, it seems we merely take three steps forward and five steps backwards. We decry all these injustices and far-reaching consequences of children not being brought up in a loving and sheltered environment. Yet it is clear that we are the very monster we detest; we are comfortable with that.

The perpetuation of the unspoken perception that step- or adopted children are second-class individuals who should be grateful that they even get an ounce of affection at all is tragic. “There are men [and women] making a valuable contribution to the lives of children in South Africa, even when they are not their biological children”, writes Izzy Rawlins.

As in his living years, one continues to draw lessons from Tata, even in mortality. Doing the juggling act of re-asserting one’s love for his biological children against assuring step-children of their place in the family can’t be an easy feat- for anyone. I reckon that a lot of us missed the lesson there-which is more of a question than a set of ready-made answers: How much of yourself are you willing to give to others without expecting anything in return?