Helen Zille’s Track Record speaks louder than her words

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Although she did not use the word ‘devastating’ lightly, my mother in her lifetime fairly often resorted to it in describing adverse events that were deeply saddening or profoundly shocking.

I do not know how Western Cape Premier Helen Zille feels about the furore that broke loose after her now notorious colonialism tweet in March of this year, shortly after an official visit to Singapore. However, as rational and controlled as her responses may be, the various reactions may quite well for several reasons be devastating to her. One of them must surely be the fact that she has spent her entire adult life (from student days) fighting, writing and campaigning against political inequalities in this country. And notwithstanding this track record, she is being ostracized over this tweet: “For those claiming the legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport, infrastructure, piped water etc.”

CONTEXT

Sure, it is probably valid to say that it was somewhat irresponsible to share a thought of that nature with the world at large and more specifically her extremely jumpy and jittery fellow South Africans. But what about context? What about the courage to point out that we are, in fact, in various ways benefiting from some of the more harmless leftovers of an undesirable era.

I only once had a very brief personal encounter with Zille in the course of my five year term as a ward councillor between 2011 and 2016 – during which time she was the Federal Leader of the Party until succeeded by Mmusi Maimane in 2015. However, as a journalist myself by profession, I have for long taken a keen interest in her leadership style, her role in the Struggle and her approach to politics in South Africa; and I have coincidentally learned a great deal more about her background and history by reading her autobiography ‘Not Without a Fight’.

She is perfectly human, which is a relief to know, and far from perfect. But, as the case would have been even before the unfortunate tweet incident, I am of the opinion that Helen Zille has an almost unparalleled track record as a (white) champion for democracy in this country.

In my humble opinion as a professional person with a master’s degree, an above-average interest in politics as well as a coveted first-hand experience in politics during a crucial time in democratic South Africa, the public response to her tweet by her own party leadership could have been dealt with differently. I mean to say: Surely her actions over decades speak way louder than a loaded word taken out of context?!

DECADES OF DEDICATION

Have a heart. After fearlessly and tirelessly pioneering and spearheading in pursuit of a South Africa without oppression, racial divides and inequality for literally decades; after surrounding herself in the process with kindred spirits from all walks of life and mentoring, empowering those who could eventually take over the reins; and after stepping down at the best time possible to stand back – in favour of a new and equally dynamic leadership in the person of Mmusi Maimane, without however quitting the quest: was it the most suitable response from her inner circle, to declare that it was distancing itself from her and that she should be subjected to a disciplinary hearing?

On 6 April Times Live quoted her as saying:

“One of those lessons was that Singapore, having suffered centuries of colonial oppression, succeeded in re-purposing aspects of colonialism’s legacy to build an inclusive modern economy. This, among other things, has enabled its people to escape poverty within a generation.

“There is no question that colonialism was driven by greed and oppressive intent. The question for countries today is whether they are able, like Singapore, to leverage aspects of the legacy of an oppressive past to their advantage.” Mature minds, surely, could have processed and subsequently responded more wisely to the actual tweet, for example by requesting an explanation and clarification from her and by stating that further announcements would be made once the matter had been dealt with internally?

COLLEAGUES APPLAUDED

On 29 March 2017 IOL reported: “After a fiery speech in her own defence she received a standing ovation from DA colleagues.” “…Zille said on Tuesday that people who believed the price of colonialism was too high should not drive cars or visit places of worship, as these were leftover legacies of colonists in SA.

“I am talking about the motor car. Today in South Africa, this colonial leftover is not only a means of transport, but the ultimate status symbol,” she said.

“She defended her tweet as a ‘simple statement of fact’ and said it had sparked a ‘critical’ debate which was of ‘urgent national importance’.”

She had said her visit to Singapore and Japan had been eye-opening.

“It seemed to me that the colonised has overtaken the coloniser on the world stage and I thought it was worthwhile asking why,” she said.

She denied defending or praising colonialism and apologised to those offended by her tweets.

Earlier DA MPLs among whom Bonginkosi Madikizela, Masizole Mnqasela and Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer had defended Zille, with Mnqasela bringing up Zille’s struggle credentials, reminding MPs of when she had sheltered ANC activists such as Tony Yengeni and Mcebisi Skwatsha.

“NOTHING BUT HARM”

Ironically, in an interview with Alec Hogg for BizNews.com in November 2015, one of Helen Zille’s former critics from within her own ranks at the time, writer Bill (RW) Johnson’ had spoken out against the heavy penalty that MP Diane Kohler Barnard had incurred by tweeting irresponsibly, and prophetically made out a case in Zille’s favour:

“This nonsense with Diane Kohler Barnard… Look, I don’t do social media. I don’t waste my time with it but all these politicians seem to get into tremendous trouble by using it. I don’t know why they do either. It’s done nothing but harm to Helen Zille and now, it’s harmed Kohler Barnard. What she did was a sort of ridiculous thing, which anyone could do with a flick of the mouse. To throw her out of the party and ruin her career over that is an amazing piece of hypersensitivity.”

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Made in South Africa – of Malice & Greed

JUST as well that the proud ANC stalwarts like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada are no longer here to witness the trashing of their once proud liberation movement. And, primarily, their beloved country. They had high ideals and their dreams were vast. If they were to awaken now, they would find themselves in the slimy pit of a horrific nightmare.  Continue reading

“Blah-blah-blah…” Is JZ taking strain?

presidentjacobzumaI was not personally present in the ‘House’. Thank goodness. But in the comfort of my own home with mercifully only a screen-sized image of the so-called ‘state of the nation address’, I was allowed ample opportunity to partake with much dismay in the scandalous proceedings  of Parliament yesterday, 9 February 2017.

Once the red and white chaos and turbulence of raucous EFF conduct and somewhat vehement security intervention had subsided on the screen and the other opposition parties had seemingly haphazardly voiced their points of order, concerns and objections or left the House in protest, the beleaguered president could commence his address more than an hour late. This was also after the speakers of the two houses had exerted themselves (pretty much in vain!) in an effort to exercise their powers and execute their duties for the sake of maintaining(?) / restoring (?) order in the House… Two stern women. But to no avail.

HE LAUGHED

And what was JZ’s first reaction when he ‘finally’ (his word) took the podium? He laughed. I would have cried. At least inwardly, which I seriously doubt he is even capable of doing. What a shame. What a shambles. I used the same word to describe the previous SONA, and I wish it were different this time.

The worst of the laughing bit is that he did it at least twice during the course of last night’s address. That hollow, nerve-grating sound that says ‘see the tear in my eye!’.

Did I want to hear what he had to say? Honestly, no. It was so much of the same old, same old. Interspersed with scarlet threads of threat upon (racial) threat. Yes! How is it in order for this individual to hammer on the black/white issue without anyone blinking an eye?! Twenty three years down the line! How much time do you need, sir? “Today we are starting a new chapter of radical social-economic transformation…” Oh my word: rewind, rewind, rewind?

I did not count how many times our president made references to race and to the measures in which – in his explicit opinion – inequality still prevailed in, among others, the business sector and the work-place… and how drastic measures were (according to him) to be put in place to rectify the situation. Oh boy. Just imagine if anyone else, from any other political or social grouping, had the audacity and took the liberty to speak so freely on sensitive issues in racially charged terms!

TIRED & LONELY?

The kitchen with unwashed dinner dishes has a strangely powerful attraction to me midway through his address. And from there, whilst performing mundane household duties, I hear this halting and monotonous drone that could/should surely not be an address  by a country’s number one citizen to his people?

The course of events inside  that Parliament building – whilst the angry tumult of the exiles continues on the streets surrounding it – sounds and appears to be like the lifeless rehearsal of a stage production doomed to failure: undramatic sentences… followed by uninspired applause. More of that. And yet more. Announcement. Applause. Repeat.

You look extremely tired, Mr President. And spent. You even appear lonely. Alone. Deserted? Abandoned?

Yet – you stay. How come? But seriously: don’t you get it? What will it take?

Kruger: compromising on standards?

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FOR close on 50 years it has been a personal joy that keeps reappearing on my bucket list, to visit the Kruger National Park: undoubtedly one of South Africa’s flagship tourist destinations. Arguably one of the top two!

Most recently, in January 2017 – at the peak of the summer season, it was the same for me again.

Or… was it? Well, mostly; but not all of it brought undiluted joy all of the time.

It had rained abundantly and all things natural were exceptionally picturesque, jubilant, revived, refreshed and vibrant. My companions and I reveled in the sheer enjoyment thereof. So did all of nature – and our privilege was to be not only silent and awe-inspired observers, but also partakers thereof.

Spotting animals in the wild, having the patience to pursue this activity and making the most of it have over many years and three generations been and become skills that my kinsfolk and I have honed in various manners and places. South Africa’s bouquet of nature reserves and game parks is impressive and they have always had a powerful pull. I’ve wondered: is it more about the bubble of isolation from the ‘real world’ you temporarily find yourself in, or about the close encounter with sights and sounds that are hopefully being preserved for posterity? Can it also be the experience of surrendering to a carefree yet mutually focused sub-culture whilst you find yourself within the boundaries of a particular sanctuary?

Whatever the case may be: once you have become an experienced ‘game reserver’ / ‘parks visitor’ you can safely assume that you have, over time, also acquired the ‘qualification’ and authority to comfortably, as well as probably accurately and fairly, assess and evaluate what is on offer. And frankly – not only what is on offer, but also whether the ethos, intrinsic nature and characteristics of an institution are at a level that they can reasonably be expected to be.

THROUGH THE WORLD’S EYES

I have for a while placed a hesitant and reluctant question mark over the Kruger National Park – and maybe even its mother organization, SANPARKS – in this regard. I do this within the context of, in this particular case the Kruger Park, enjoying the prime prominence and priority that it does as a destination within the ranks of the international tourist population. It is my contention that international tourism standards must comply with ‘universal’ norms in every sense of the word. And there should be no exceptions to the rule. A ‘five star experience’ must be exactly that in universally accepted terms. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that a Kruger National Park experience is globally perceived as at least a five star destination (or whatever the ultimate number of stars is for a superior grading).

So, concerning a few of the aspects relating to my tentative ‘question mark’:

1. VISITOR / TOURIST FACILITIES:

Accommodation, ablution and other amenities: do they live up to expectations?

I am first in line when it comes to the thrill of returning to basics… like camping and the simple life of not fretting too much about menus, meals, wardrobes, routines, etc. I truly appreciate minimalism and… yes, simplicity. But there is always context.

In a world-renowned and undoubtedly lucrative game park like the Kruger, you are surely entitled to the very best in each quotable category: whether it be staff conduct, a reception area, a rustic camp site, an access or exit gate, a basic bungalow, a luxury chalet, an exclusive guest cottage, bed linen, kitchen utensils and facilities, picnic sites, restaurants, shops, swimming pools and last, but not least, toilet and ablution facilities.

Especially in the latter instance it is disturbing to encounter facilities that are lacking. Even at remote picnic sites there has to be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach regarding spotless cleanliness, adequate hand towel and soap availability, flush mechanisms and taps that work. When public or even private facilities of this nature in rest camps leave anything at all to be desired, it should give rise to serious concern and decisive action.

I have concluded that rest-camps in the Kruger National Park, as well as reception areas, picnic sites and other facilities, do not necessarily uniformly conform and comply with set (hopefully international!) standards. An inevitable deduction is that the general appearance and performance of a rest camp or picnic site depend on the degree of commitment and ethos lived out by its management and staff. Whilst it is evident that some facilities are tended by staff that go the extra mile, others show traces of neglect in varying degrees. It would be unfair of me to neglect motivating my allegations:

  • At least twice (once most recently, in January 2017 at the Tamboti tented camp) we arrived at our reserved overnight accommodation in the later afternoon to find that the previous occupants had not yet vacated. How does this happen in a system that should be faultless and top-notch – considering that discerning travellers from across the globe are hosted daily? Needless to say, this kind of experience causes much discomfort and concern…
  • A flagship rest camp like Lower Sabie cannot have ANY excuse for lacking or sub-standard visitors’ facilities. However the safari tent we stayed in overnight and paid an adequate amount for, was literally in tatters. We could conveniently watch the full moon rising through a huge torn cavity in the front ‘gable wall’ of the structure. And the canvas was flapping profusely in a stiff and dusty wind. In the same tent – as well as the neighboring one – the mesh windows were either tattered and worn or untidily sewn together in an effort to convince the occupants that they were actually there and serving a purpose! Furthermore I had to guess what I was going to look like to the outside world, because where the bathroom mirror should have been, there was only a frame. (What happened to all the extensive renovations that the rest camp was undergoing for a prolonged period??)
  • In Mopani, which is undoubtedly one of the model camps in the park when it comes to location and layout, and is seen to cater for individuals and families from mostly higher income groups, we found our comfortable 3 bedroom cottage to be in need of repairs or attention in more ways than one. The vanity shelf in the main bedroom was sagging; the interior of the fridge smelt unbearable; lighting shades were missing from more than one wall-mounted light; the kitchen was somewhat sparsely equipped with utensils and some of the exterior walkway lights were out of order…
  • At Letaba – traditionally also a flagship rest camp – we had two basic huts on the perimeter and had looked forward to our unobstructed views of the river. On arrival, however, we found an unsightly pile of sand practically on our doorstep and between our two neighboring huts. It had obviously been indiscriminately dumped there by workers for reasons unknown to us. Our request at the reception office that it be removed, was followed by a site visit from a staff member who apologized and sent a team to comply. Unfortunately it was a halfhearted attempt that left much to be desired. Finding a kitchen facility (as these particular huts are not equipped in this regard) was also quite a challenge. In fact there was none within a convenient distance from our accommodation, because the designated one had been converted into a pop-up restaurant to counteract threatening staff strikes at the rest-camp’s franchise restaurant.
  • Punda Maria is one of our most favourite rest camps – perhaps mostly due to its remoteness, and also for its magnificent trees, the waterhole and hide, the rustic atmosphere and the touch of tradition and old-fashioned charm. Our upmarket safari tent was perfectly comfortable and well equipped, with the added luxury of its own ablution facilities. I however cannot but mention that in some aspects maintenance appeared to be lacking: a section of the canvas roofing was sagging dangerously from a huge load of rainwater that had accumulated and it was in danger of collapsing or tearing. A rather bad leak in the roofing of the bathroom section appeared to be unattended and proved to be a real problem when we actually experienced a glorious rainstorm. Furthermore I frowned at the fact that of the four appliances in the rest camp’s little laundry facility, only two were in working order. The other two appeared to be quite dusty and had obviously not been attended to in a long time. The latter assumption was confirmed by a staff member. Besides the discomfort it caused the seasonal campers who had to queue for their turn at washing and drying, it is also an unacceptable slip in what should be world-class standards.
  • In Satara, arguably one of the most popular of all the rest camps, we recently as campers encountered altogether unsatisfactory kitchen facilities: twin-plate stoves as well as boilers were missing – and when reported, the issue was met with shrugs of acknowledgement that they had been stolen. No further action was taken! A serious sewerage system problem at one of the ablution blocks (impossible to ignore!) was not effectively addressed and solved. Besides the stench, there was also the niggling concern about possible hygiene-related issues…)

2. SERVICE STANDARDS & STAFF CONDUCT

Are checks and balances in place? Is there a satisfactory uniformity throughout the park?

I am eager to testify that politeness and friendliness from staff are mostly the order of the day. They are predominantly tidy, punctual, helpful, discreet and seemingly well organized. Occasionally, personal conversations among themselves in the course of executing their tasks are somewhat more audible than is probably convenient or acceptable to the discerning visitor; this is a personal opinion. And their timing for cleaning accommodation facilities is not consistently discreet.

  • Entry gates: this is where first and last impressions are formed. Your Kruger Park experience starts and ends here. Are you welcomed and received, as well as bade farewell and sent off, professionally, eloquently, politely and enthusiastically? Regrettably I recently noticed that, on exiting the park at Crocodile Bridge after a ten day visit, the appearance of the gate and its attendants, as well as the latter’s conduct, reminded me a little bit of some countries’ border posts… grim, drab, indifferent.
  • Reception areas:can staff at a reception desk ever be too helpful, too efficient or too accommodating? Let me hasten to say that I do not mean they need to indulge the whims and opportunistic demands of ill-mannered patrons, but rather to take charge and control of the needs of guests in a manner that reassures, emanates warmth and extends a hearty welcome. Kruger generally has a good performance record in this regard. But again – NO compromise on quality and finesse should need to be tolerated by the discerning visitor!
  • Gratifying past experiences of rest camp management staff must be mentioned in all fairness. At Shingwedzi, on a camping trip, we once had a personal report-back from the camp manager after she herself had been involved in chasing a troop of meddling monkeys out of our tent. This particular individual was during our sojourn regularly seen moving about the area and obviously familiarizing herself with the condition of amenities, the satisfaction levels of guests, etc. She had a face – and a phone number that worked! At a world-class destination like Kruger, this is what you’d expect. It is however regrettably not what you invariably get.

3. IS CONSERVATION STILL THE ALPHA AND OMEGA?

Are Conservation and its intrinsic Management Values still an ultimate and urgent bottom line objective to the KNP?

This may appear to be a rhetorical question. However it has serious undertones and has, in my opinion, the very real possibility of being valid… for example:

  • Is it purely my imagination, or have Kruger’s herds of herbivores shrunk somewhat over time, throughout the years? Granted, there are factors that play annual and seasonal roles, like the distribution and abundance or shortage of natural water sources – depending on rainfall figures or drought occurrences. Therefore, when you drive for long stretches without seeing animals, it need not necessarily concern you: searching for them is after all the name of the game! But could and should the effect of the mentioned factors be as drastic and consistently increasing as it appears to be? Is there a possibility that antelope and other herbivores, for example, are being hunted somewhat indiscriminately by more than their natural predators?
  • Why, for example, is it according to news reports that reach public eyes and ears, predominantly only possible to apprehend (rhino) poachers after a perpetration? Through the media it is evident that the counter-initiatives, their quality and extent are extremely focused and sophisticated. This is acknowledged and appreciated by nature lovers far and wide. So this is the issue: whilst the rhino population figures are plummeting at a heartrending rate – why do these magnificent animals appear to be as unsafe in the most reputable reserves as they are anywhere else? Are there more threatening and underhand factors involved than insatiable greed?
  • How effective is the screening and selection of staff who are appointed in key conservation-related positions in view of the fact that they are in all reasonability being entrusted with the crucial and delicate task of playing a passionate role in the preservation of our wildlife heritage for posterity?

The Kruger National Park has a rich and intriguing history. With it came and went traditions like communal camp fires, ethnic drum sounds that announced the evening meal, the daily sharing of game sightings among like-minded enthusiasts, scrumptious bush brunches under gigantic trees at picnic sites like Tshokwane, Babalala, Muzandzeni, Mooiplaas, Timbavati and the likes. Although it would be unfair, impractical and unrealistic to expect all customs and traditions to live on, I believe the indescribable and undeniable charm of the KNP lies in, among other things, not departing altogether from the dual purpose of protecting whilst delighting.

Protecting without withholding; not only the defenseless and threatened, but also that which has rung dear to stakeholders and visitors alike through the decades.

Delighting without sacrificing on the full richness of an experience in nature by detracting from it; and without compromising on world-class and internationally acceptable standards in order to keep pleasing even the most refined and discerning of new and loyal patrons.

* * * * * * * * * * *

trumped

It certainly is not about personalities, or about favouring the one political party in the world’s most prominent country over another; neither is it about feminism or equity; nor about a whim. It is more (however not only) about the question of whether leadership and statesmanship and integrity matter at all anymore. And perhaps even dignity and character. Have we come to a place where nothing is sacred or respectable any more? Let alone honourable?

The United States of America have earned themselves the new head of state that they deserve. Democracy has taken its course. With an unprecedented Republican twist. Yeah, sure, Donald Trump has it all. Money talks, right? There was never a slight chance that his campaign would be underfunded or shoddy. He knew from the start that his march to the White House would be victorious. (But then Hillary knew that about hers too…)

Hopefully this outcome will not be like the dog that successfully chases the car, catches it, and then…is not 100% sure of the next step.

The question is just this: If the American people were simply tired of the way things were and have been; if they were angry (as it appears they were); if they were going to use this presidential election to swing things in a new direction – then please tell me why their research and strategic planning were so lacking? Would a stuttering Moses not have better suited the role of leading the people out of the egypt of power games, corruption, deceit, decadence, etc. – than a slick, glib, arrogant billionaire who obviously occupies the throne in his own dazzling empire? Has he actually earned all this seemingly blind loyalty, and how? Through the age-old and cheapest trick in the book, namely promises?

GIFT OF THE GAB?

Look at some of his notorious quotes – only a pitiful few of the multitude:

“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

“If you can’t get rich dealing with politicians, there’s something wrong with you.”

“All the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

The wall will go up and Mexico will start behaving.”

Strike you as mature utterances that speak of character and finesse??

Look, in my opinion Americans were in this presidential election between a rock and a hard place. Between the devil and… another. But WHY? How did it happen?

The boundaries defining the concept of ‘leadership’ have seemingly become controversial, vague, slippery and frankly almost non-existent. ‘Leadership’ has broadened and flattened out to such a huge extent, that it probably constitutes almost anything a bunch of fools would want it to. Not to even mention statesmanship. Or, for that matter, statespersonship.

It’s like I know what I am talking about? In South Africa? Well now….

Someone had to win. And the winner was bound to be one of the two finalists, right?

It is what it is.

THE IRONY OF MISSING THE POINT

Missing the point is at best a waste of time. And opportunity. At worst it can be a helluva mess. Or even a massive disaster. As the one we are seeing unfolding in the out-of-control #feesmustfall 2016 campaign.

I like what Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, says about the student protests that have been disturbingly dragging on for… how long now? He calmly and convincingly states, with conviction, that it is urgent for the South African government to revisit its subsidy policies regarding tertiary education in this country. THAT is the point.

If this point had been acknowledged, admitted and addressed – much, much sooner – by those responsible and accountable, there would no doubt have been much less panic and pain. The latter are sadly suffered by tens of thousands of South African students who are in dire straits for being rudely and ruthlessly disrupted from completing their academic years and preparing for end-of-year examinations. This is almost unforgivable. It is totally unacceptable.

Mr President-of-the-country – for what you are worth in this capacity: where in the world have you been?! Was it not you who sowed this unfortunate seed on our university campuses? – The one that has blossomed into the misconception that five star tertiary education can be handed out for free? Could you not speak out and admit that you simply had no idea what you were talking about? Blade Nzimande – how could you allow things to deteriorate to these barbaric levels?! Without contextualizing; offering some form of perspective; correcting the perceptions of so-called students and preventing them from escalating into warped and distorted ludicrity?

Marching on university campuses with placards bearing appropriate slogans is probably not the worst kind of awareness campaign. This country-wide demonstration could most likely have had its desired effect if conducted and concluded in a powerful but dignified burst of orchestrated protest. The message was undoubtedly heard and elevated to the next appropriate levels of authority (it was, was it not?); but was there any indication that it had been noted? Hello? Was anybody home?

DESTRUCTION & DEVASTATION

But, no: instead of a swift and orderly response to a pretty obvious issue, blind eyes have been turned and rampantly raging students(?? really??) have been left to destroy and devastate. Irreparably. For whose account? Presumably and actually most certainly not theirs…

A review of government subsidies for tertiary institutions is long overdue. Drastic increases are a glaring need. Is it so hard to make the connection between the overwhelming multitude of aspiring students jostling for a place in the race and the drastic financial implications all round? More than 22 years downstream from the start of our democratic voyage: did no-one at the helm foresee that capacities would have to increase by leaps and bounds, and that the handful of available institutions would have to be drastically empowered to meet the swelling demands?

On the one hand we have the emerging generation – surging towards the stars; and on the other hand we have the apparently clueless political authorities who have seemingly long forgotten how to apply their political will. Assuming there is one.

Just a random thought to ponder: it would be interesting to establish both the quality and quantity of ‘true student fibre’ among the rampaging mobs. Perhaps someone should hasten to remind our boisterously demanding youth that it has never been a ‘right for all without reserve’ to enroll as a post-matric student for a university degree. As far as I know and can recall, there have always been requirements.

Granted – if and when these are met, the way forward should be paved and open, for each and every qualifier. And only THEN should financial constraints NOT be stumbling blocks.

THAT UNSPEAKABLE JOY

HOW proud I used to be to be called a ‘bookworm’. That was many moons ago. When I had deserved and earned the title – by reading whenever and wherever I could! Regrettably things changed with time. For many years I could no longer claim to be… that worm…

Today (8 September) being International Literacy Day, and this week being National Book Week here in South Africa, my thoughts cannot help but turn to this most desirable pastime that I now struggle, but am determined, to pursue. It is through no-one’s doing but my own!

I read like a caterpillar chewing on a green leaf long before I went to school! It continued into my early teen years. I knew the magic of the smell of a new book, the thrill of receiving a wrapped birthday or Christmas gift in the undeniable size and shape and feel of a book, I loved (still do!) the hush of a library and the wonder of shelf upon shelf of potential pleasure. And indeed not only pleasure, but also new insights, new worlds of wisdom, new ideas!

Oh, the joy of picking up a substantial hardcover book and turning the pages one by one, all the while immersing yourself deeper and deeper into other worlds and spaces; making your own pictures of places and faces! The reward and satisfaction of growing a collection, a selection, of books: your own library.

ALIVE & WELL

Mine exists. It is alive and well. It is thriving – mostly in neat stacks beside my bed and I have the doubtful habit of trying to browse more than one copy at a time! Frantic to make up lost opportunities, maybe? Daily my eyes dwell lovingly over the titles in shelves – also by my bedside! – that are waiting to be read or re-read. And on the landing of the stairs there are more enticing titles and volumes calling out to me. I AM a potential bookworm. I can convert again! I still experience the delight of ownership; the sensation of possessiveness.

Why the habit ever dwindled?

Late teens: boys… schoolwork… piano practice….

Early twenties: university studies… romance….

Late twenties: career obligations…neglect…marriage…

Thirtysomethings: motherhood…part-time (full-time!) professional writing practice…fatigue… neglect…burn-out… (the latter temporarily brought my concentration abilities to a nasty and grinding halt).

Fortysomethings: self-employment…life coaching (of my own, precious offspring)…writing (for additional earnings)…

All the while I knew, however, that love of reading, the hunger for solitude and silence with written words, had never died or gone away. Thank goodness for that!

And now – I am trying with a passion and a vengeance to put right what went wrong. I still yearn for books, for reading time. I nurture and cherish the time I manage to spend losing myself in a book. Autobiographies, philosophies, family sagas, thought-provoking non-fiction with one of the requirements being that the reading matter direct my thoughts to higher and worthier things than the mundane and the ridiculous.

Book Week! What an excellent campaign: there are few better ways than reading, to boost your vocabulary (for everyday use!), stimulate your thought processes, satisfy your need for knowledge and insight (to be able to think on your feet!)

Literacy is indispensable. It empowers. Period.

I really hope and trust that SA Book Week will see many, many converts! Here’s my pledge: I’m jumping on the bandwagon – watch me!

Far from the Fire Pools

20150519_203619_resizedThe surface of the street where I live is shiny with the traces of this morning’s frequent and intense showers after days of fierce and angry gales. The ocean is tired of dancing to their tunes and heaves in heavy swells of grey – beneath a sullen sky in all those fifty fluffy shades.

The date is significant.

The music of the Reflection and Meditation CD from the Reader’s Digest album The World’s Favourite Classics is so perfect for the moment. I float with it. Soar. Maybe not altogether lightheartedly; however temporarily and willingly detached from the shackles of earthly realities.

I lean over to be able to see the mountain and notice with a quiet gladness that there is a splattering of sun on the slopes where my mother’s ashes lie strewn. Where we scattered them some months after her death exactly twenty years ago. I marvel at the brevity of time; yet also its vastness. A sense of timelessness envelopes me and reminds me of the words found in the 55th chapter of the Bible book written by the prophet Isaiah – in verses 8 and 9: “My thoughts,” says the Lord, “are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.”

ARROGANT EGOISTS

My mother has been spared a great deal of earthly toil and turmoil. As much as I would enjoy taking her on a walk down memory lanes of the past two decades, I am also relieved that she is not exposed to the ridiculousness and the nadir of a government flailing about in disregard of all decency, morality, nobility and righteousness.

She has not needed to learn daily with a heavy heart of the escalating crime and corruption that are threatening to destroy a South African dream of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all… Likewise she is unaware of the race against time to save this unique and singular country from recklessness and destruction at the hands of arrogant egoists who almost certainly do not even know how to spell the word ‘integrity’.

Her heart would no doubt be troubled if it felt the threatening tremors of lawlessness approaching like a potentially devastating earthquake that is eager to devour and destroy the foundations of justice.

It would cry and flutter at the knowledge that the father of her children is sailing these stormy and treacherous waters in the frailty and vulnerability of old age and ill health. Yet it would sing joyously and victoriously to the tune of his courage and perseverance against all odds.

What matters most, after all, is to sense and believe that a journey of victory on high places, somewhere between reality and eternity, is ultimately rewarding.

Regardless…

WORDS’ WORTH – Michael Ondaatje and the ‘word thing’

(‘Words’ Worth’ is a fortnightly column written for the Solid Stuff Creative facebook page)the-enlgish-patient

When I stumble upon words or phrases that can be attributed to great and famous spirits and they resonate with a passion deep inside of me, I feel a trickle of excitement and pleasure tickling my spine. Oh, especially when they actually kind of summarise or accurately echo that passion!

Sri Lankan born author Michael Ondaatje, whose profound and poignant novel The English Patient earned him the 1992 Booker Prize, has his character who is throughout the narrative only presumed by the reader to be Almásy, express thoughts on the power and integrity of words – while they are most likely Ondaatje’s own.

Referring to the characters of Geoffrey Clifton and his wife Katharine, Almásy says: “The words of her husband in praise of her meant nothing. But I am a man whose life in many ways, even as an explorer, has been governed by words. By rumours and legends. Charted things. Shards written down. The tact of words. In the desert to repeat something would be to fling more water into the earth. Here nuance took you a hundred miles.”

Katharine subsequently asks Almásy for “That book you look at in the evenings?”

“Herodotus. Ahh. You want that?”

Some days later she takes out The Histories after the evening meal and reads out loud to the men the story of Candaules and his queen. A piece that Almásy had always skimmed over, but now listens to.

“…the words she spoke across the fire…”

He then tells the reader (or Hana): “This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire…” And a few paragraphs further – “She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love.

“Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

Much later on in the novel, when there is an inevitable break-down in his relationship with Katharine, he (the narrator at that stage) skilfully uses words to imply a deep and profound understanding of her that she is sadly not aware of: “She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.”

Perhaps this following excerpt from the review of the novel by Pico Iyer of Time best describes the allure and intrigue of The English Patient:

“A magic carpet of a novel that soars across worlds and times… As rare and spellbinding a net of dreams as any that has emerged in recent years.”

I agree.

I salute Michael Ondaatje’s captivating celebration of words.

 

…Corrupts absolutely, Mr President

To call last week’s SONA a ‘circus’ is far too complimentary and playful. Frivolous. ‘Disaster’ would be a better description. Or ‘fiasco’. Or even ‘tragedy’.

Mr President, you and your team have yet again disappointed so many South Africans who had been holding their breaths – hoping against their better knowledge and insight that this time you may just rise to the challenge. It was however not to be.

I wonder if you ever take a moment to ponder on the hopes and dreams of the freeborns who had their very first opportunity to participate in a national election in 2014. Are you even aware of the Y-generation who, together with them, are shining examples across the excitingly diverse culture spectrum, of a true Rainbow Generation? Do you have the faintest clue of how many of their political perceptions are in your hands, as the leader and head of state of their country of birth? They are honing skills and carving out futures inbetween pathetic power failures and faux pas upon political faux pas.

There is a collective glint of confusion and hesitation in their eyes. Is this it? The free, democratic South Africa in which no-one would ever again be oppressed by anyone? Have they missed something? Did Mr Mandela not make it perfectly clear as South Africa’s first democratically elected president that statesmanship came with a whole lot of integrity?

You missed yet another opportunity, Mr Zuma, of displaying true statesmanship and honour. It should have been different. But… do you have what it takes? Why would you choose to roll out a guttural and scornful laugh when you should have been taking charge with authority and dignity?

You actually had absolutely nothing at all to say about the glaring violations that were most likely occurring on your orders. Did words fail you, or do you simply lack all respect: for yourself, for institutions of the highest order and ultimately for your people?

Your party’s arrogant assumption that it had the authority to instruct the jamming of cell phone signals and the commandeering of armed forces to suit its macabre needs, thereby effectively hijacking and disregarding the sacred status of parliament constituted a seizure of power that you sadly do not have.

We have moved beyond the ‘power corrupts’ phase.

I doubt you are able to gauge the extent of the irreparable damage you have done hacking away at the foundation laid by Nelson Mandela not only for his own party, but for all South Africans for posterity.

Methinks you have gone too far: not only in your most recent public conduct, but in a myriad of instances known and unknown. You have too long been unfit for the role and status you assume and cling to.

Laugh you may; but I am afraid you may not be the last to laugh, Mr President.

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience”