Woman, Wake Up!

when-sleeping-women1

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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Public Speaking for Dummies

“A good orator is pointed and impassioned”- Mark Twain

gulp!
gulp!

I’m not sure if anyone remembers the speech President Jacob Zuma gave on the Obamas’ first official state visit to the country? I’ll gladly refresh your memory, it’s the speech that prompted comedian Trevor Noah to joke, “When Zuma doesn’t use a script, you can see how he gets the ladies. He’s so much smoother. #NkandlaNova”

Indeed, Zuma delivered a rare, impassioned and seemingly unscripted speech. We were all impressed. Perhaps the President realized that he had no choice but to up his ante or risk being upstaged in his own yard by his US counterpart.

Barack Obama’s intrigue does not only lie in the fact that he is a tall, good-looking man who is the first Black president of the United States. It also lies in his impeccable oratory skills. Just the other day, I was cleaning the living room with the TV switched to the news as usual. As soon as Obama’s State of the Union Address came on, everything I had been doing no longer seemed that important.

Irrelevant as the address was, one couldn’t help but be drawn to the man; he certainly has a “Woza woza” effect about him. Obama could talk me into smoking ten bags of marijuana in one sitting and I’d still think he makes sense! Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “speech is power; speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel” certainly ring true.

podium

And so we always look on in admiration as people make public speaking seem like a piece o’ cake. I gave my first speech when I was about thirteen years old in front of fellow learners, their parents (and mine) and all my teachers. I had stood on that podium many times before as a member of the debate society, yet each time always felt like it was the first.

Each time, my stomach rumbled from anxiety, demanding a retreat to the loo. I still remember how daunting it is to stand before so many pairs of eyes. Stage fright is indeed one hell of a motherf*&@er!

However it was always the sight of my teacher, Missus Mmolutsi that eased my angst. She would sit strategically in one corner, silently urging me on to watch the tone of my voice and not look down at my notes for too long. She’d silently remind me to let my eyes travel around the room in order to connect with my audience and to avoid fidgeting with my hands.

With the SONA (State of the Nation) season on the way, it unfortunately feels like a bit of an anti-climax situation. Besides the dull state of affairs in our midst, we are so used to being dished up uninspiring, mundane technical speeches. Of course there is the occasional chuckle and naughty innuendo from our charming Number One, but the rest is like attempting to make a call on your mobile while standing in the middle of the Kalahari.

Can there be anything worse than having someone address you and getting sense that -just like you- they are hearing the speech for the first time? Yikes!Mr. President, Baba, we want to hear you in those speeches and not your faceless speech writer asseblief!

In this corner of the earth people generally love hearing the sound of their own voices. They will not stop talking until a good one-half of the room is snoozing or shifting their feet under tables to indicate their frustration.

Many people find public speaking intimidating; it is one of those things that some are born with while others need to labour on a bit more. Therefore, being comfortable in that space ultimately comes with practice. I reckon the best speeches are well researched, prepared; short and to the point.

As Ira Hayes puts it, “no one ever complains about a speech being too short”.

For tips on fine-tuning your public speaking skills see:

The Role Model Debate

There are those who believe in role models. Then there are those who believe that each individual has the innate ability to harness his own power to succeed and to live a fulfilling life. Will-power is thought to be an important element of this.

I think inspiration can come from all sorts of places. If we all believed in the notion of external motivation not being all that significant, then people in the professions of development, professional and life coaching as well as motivational speaking would surely be out of business!

Steve MacCaulay of the Cranfield School of Management in the UK says that a role model is, “someone who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by other people, and consistently leads by example”. He continues to state that though a role model is NOT a model of perfection, they are held to high standards and therefore need to heighten their awareness of being contradictory.

So, it can be decisively argued that being a role model is not a choice- not if people hold you to some esteem and value your contribution to society. I reckon that’s why it is just too much pressure for some people who would, for instance, deliver a sermon then curl up and smoke a joint afterwards or sing a gospel song one minute and impregnate young girls the next. It’s a tough world, ain’t it?

When I was growing up (especially in primary school), I always had a ready-made answer when quizzed about role-models. Naturally, that person was my mother; a virtuous and strong woman, the first person who would later teach me how to write a speech and ignite my writing love affair in general.

It evolved from there to include people like Ms Winfrey and Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini, whose power to influence; humility and general concern for society struck me. His endeavours remain relevant although his self-inflicted fall from grace was a disappointment, to say the least.

Ontlametse Phalatse
Ontlametse Phalatse

I have a different outlook on life today because of a 14-year-old girl named Ontlametse Phalatse. Hers is truly a testament of how enduring the human spirit can be under challenging circumstances. The optimistic manner in which Phalatse has embraced life despite her Progeria makes some of the things we cry about seem fickle and she leaves one with very little choice but to let that positive energy rub-off.

Sometimes we are guilty of putting those we look up to on a pedestal. We create expectations around them which ultimately force us to deal with a lot of burst bubbles, so to speak. Perhaps one way of managing expectations is to be cognisant of the fact that human beings are perfectly imperfect.

Certainly, the most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Yet no man can do it all by himself; even the most successful individuals had someone else pushing them up, rooting for them, lending a helping hand and cracking a door of opportunity open for them.

In some way an inward-centric approach to life appears conceited and reveals a lack of desire to learn from others. Role models are a vital part of our existence: There to provide inspiration, guidance, learning and a scope to challenge ourselves BUT definitely not there so we can live our lives through them.

Dear Henke,Ever Heard of Mind Over Matter?

Now, I know I lambasted the ANC Youth League in my last post; a tongue lashing that they thoroughly deserve. That’s fine; I hope they now know that we are all allowed to be stupid sometimes, but not ALL the time! OK?

Of course I’m not going to be like a donkey with oogklappe (eye patches)-there is usually more than one side to every story. Anyway, a varsity friend stated the other day that “The Pistorius’ are such attention whores, blaming the government for their murderous son’s actions!” Thank you very much, Yandi’ I doubt I would have been able to put it as bluntly as you did. You nailed it.

I will not go into the statistics of children raped and mutilated in rural areas, in suburbs, in townships nor will I go into the numbers of women who are abused and violated by people they know. No. I will not even go into the numbers of people trafficked in and out of the country, nah! Road rage incidents? Not even that. Aren’t the statistics of crime in our country dizzying?

We are all affected. We all know someone who encountered misfortune in one way or the other. These numbers represent victims from all walks of life.

photo-courtesy mirror.co.uk
photo-courtesy mirror.co.uk

I find it absolutely appalling for the Pistorius brethren to put their stench at government’s door. Never mind feeling sorry for an innocent woman’s horrific death at the hands of someone who claims to have loved her. Never mind that the crime scene is located in an exclusive gated community-far away from the masses that may not be able to defend themselves against possible intrusion or to call the police for help.

Scapegoating? That is just so low class! I certainly find the lines between Oscar’s love of guns and them serving as protection-only to shoot his girlfriend- quite blurry.

While I remain critical of our flawed leadership, the buck stops here. I figure it is high time this lot adopted a remorseful stance and attempt to salvage whatever dignity they have left. All the empathy I initially felt for the athlete has completely waned. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions. Neither Oscar nor his father, Henke is the exception to the rule. I certainly think it was quite arrogant for the former to insinuate that substantial income means that an individual cannot commit crime or that they are too high and mighty to be rendered a criminal.

As for the latter, it’s about time that parents who lack basic parental instincts (parents who do not actively try to foster meaningful and healthy relationships with their children) realise their danger to society. Their actions not only have impact on the lives of children but threaten the nature of any future relations that they will undertake. Don’t believe me? Please refer to Santrock.

It is downright irresponsible and embarrassing. Our country is not your scapegoat, Henke!

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