Living on a prayer

Posted on 13 February, 2010. Filed under: The world | Tags: , , , , |

Last year, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. And no, she’s never smoked in her life. Besides, the doctor said, it wasn’t that type of lung cancer. Yup, you get different types of all cancer.

The diagnosis suddenly made me alert to how many people around me have cancer. People I know, new people I meet,  some in treatment, some post treatment. Many more than used to be the case 20, 30 years ago.

Then I started thinking about the staggering amount of children suffering from autism, ADHD and allergies.

And I thought about obesity, childhood and adult, and type 2 diabetes.

I believe this is the cumulative result of our modern lifestyle. We eat too much and exercise too little. We eat too much junk and processed food and fat and sugars and the colourants and additives and E’s.

Our meat and eggs and fresh produce are laced with antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, insecticides and who knows what else! Lots of these added extras are carcinogenic.

‘According to a report from World Health Organization (WHO), 35% of carcinogenic substances are derived from food and drinks, and 30% are from smoking as the second rank.’

We are also constantly exposed to  radiation (think X-rays, cell phones, remote control and wireless devices, and sorry, I do not fully trust micro wave ovens either.) And while each individual exposure might not be enough to cause cancer, or other serious health issues, what is the cumulative effect? Over 5 years, and 10 years, and 20 years?

We now know that plastic, like plastic water bottles and food containers, gives off carcinogenic toxins when it warms up. And aerosol containers, and aluminium and many other household products are carcinogenic. And while cigarette packets must carry a clearly visible health warning, these other products don’t. Why not?

And why not pose extra taxes and duties on these products to discourage people from buying them, and to subsidise the eventual cost to the country and the economy when people get sick as a result of the use of these products?

So to summarise:

Smoking kills.

Eating kills.

Drinking water kills.

Breathing kills.

Salud! Here’s to a long life. Gesondheid.


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10 Reasons to eat chocolate after dinner…

Posted on 21 December, 2009. Filed under: The world | Tags: , |

I wrote this for the Gulf News’ Friday Magazine a few years ago:

  1. It’s an easy-to-achieve goal: Make a to-do list every morning that includes”eat some chocolate”. Even if your day was a complete disaster and you have not achieved anything, having some chocolate after dinner means you can tick one thing on your list. Eaten a piece? OK, now you’re an achiever. Aren’t you proud of yourself?
  2. It is healthy: Chocolate also contains iron and magnesium. Research has shown that chocolate can reduce the incidence of cancer and heart disease, so eat up. And if anybody out there doesn’t believe the research, conduct your own studies. Count me in as one of your volunteers.
  3. It’s good for digestion: Chocolate is made of cacao beans, beans are full of fibre and fibre is good-for the digestion. Just what you need after your meal.
  4. It is better than coffee: So you usually have a cup of coffee after a meal. At night, this will only hamper your beauty sleep. Chocolate contains far less caffeine than coffee, so skip the cuppa and go for the slabba.
  5. It’s good for your family: Chocolate contains phenyl ethlamine. (Don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either.) However, this I know: it makes you feel good, happy and have more patience and this is good for your spouse and children.
  6. It’s a safety blanket for grown-ups: No matter how bad your day was, how unappreciated you feel, chocolate will always be there for you. It won’t judge, criticise, tell you what you should or shouldn’t have done. It will just offer you smooth, rich, sweet, slightly bitter, familiar comfort.
  7. It’s a dessert-on-the-go: If you’re in a hurry, chocolate is the perfect dessert. You can eat it while you check your e-mails, sort the laundry or vacuum the floor! Try doing that with steamed pudding and custard.
  8. The glue of friendship: Entire scrapbooks should be dedicated to reflecting all the emotions – love and heartbreak – shared with a friend after dinner over chocolate. It could be a slab of chocolate, a chocolate bar, a cup of hot chocolate, chocolate covered nuts or marshmallows dipped in chocolate. And for the health conscious, fresh fruit dipped in chocolate.
  9. It helps you get organised: So you’ve been threatening to organise your kitchen cupboards for months now? Start tonight, straight after dinner. Start with the shelf where you store the chocolate. Eat it. Make space. See, over-achieving again. Have some more.

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle

Posted on 8 February, 2009. Filed under: The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Did you miss me? Cause I missed me. Four exams, followed by a bout of flu, interspersed with a mixed array of houseguests; I’m only starting to find myself again now. So today I started catching up on some blogs that I’ve neglected these last few weeks, and boy, are there some interesting things happening out there! So come with me on this jungle safari. I don’t fully know where we are going to end up, if you’ve read the “about” section on my blog, you will know that the blog is a journey that “I hope … will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.”

Don’t worry too much, we’ll start slowly, looking at the guinea fowl running through the tall, dry grass, followed by a string of chicks.

Some woman in California went and had herself some children. No, I hear you say, that’s bad language. She didn’t go and have herself some children, it takes two to tango. Mm-hm, I say, I meant what I said. She had herself some children. Eight of them. Single-handedly. A soliloquy. All by herself. Wonderful thing, modern technology. And she already has six others. Also solo efforts, apparently. Now I know somewhere in this assembly process a man contributed, by committing some of his sperm to a small plastic vial, and clearly the workers on the assembly line of in-vitro insemination played a role, but essentially their involvement ended when the client took delivery of the merchandise. So we are presented with the spectacle of a 32-year old, single mother, apparently unemployed, living in a two-bedroomed house with her parents and 14 children. Are these unwanted children? Apparently not. The mother, Nadya Suleman, made a choice to have all these children.

But then, Nadya Suleman has got nothing on 43-year-old Michelle Duggar, who popped out Number 18 in December. Except she had help, in the form of husband Jim-Bob. I kid you not. No, it is not an episode of the Waltons, although the family do have their own reality TV show in the USA. (Ozzie, you started this! Now end it!) And the name of the baby is not Number 18, at least that would have been a bit creative and original, it is Jordyn-Grace Makiya Duggar. And the other 17? Let me introduce Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer. Among the 18, there are 2 sets of twins; the other 14 were all single-births. And Jim-Bob says he and Michelle would just love to have more. So that’s their choice. I just love choices, don’t you?

My husband and I have 2 children. We decided that 2 were as many as we could reasonably take care of, materially. If we could financially have afforded more, I might have wanted to add another 1 or 2, but no more. Because children need more than just clothes, food and university fees. They require a tremendous emotional investment, and I just don’t see how it is possible to provide them all with the quality time they deserve, when there are so many you have to do a roll-call every hour to make sure you have not miss-placed one. So we made our choice.

The pro-choice movement contends there is another choice. Abortion. Oooh, careful there! Rhinos ahead. Just walk softly now, don’t let them hear you, their charge can be lethal!

Back to abortion. You see, we women have the right to decide what to do with our bodies! In some countries, at least. But things get iffy here. Some people think that Ms. Suleman in California should have chosen to abort at least some of the eight foeti. Some of them feel quite strongly so. So strongly that they seem to forget that if it’s a choice, she also has the choice not to abort a foetus. So having babies, whether 1, 2, 4, 14 or 18, is as much a choice as is aborting a foetus. You think? Because this is where I find myself in murky water. And let me tell you, I don’t like murky water, seeing as how you can’t see the crocodiles. Until you step on them. By which time it’s probably too late. Many feminists are staunch advocates of a woman’s right to make choices about her body. And because historically, denying women the right to abortions was associated with the oppression of women, and in many instances it was, somehow the right to choose has been translated into abortions, forgetting that a choice of only one outcome is not, in fact, a choice at all. For a choice to be a choice, there need to be at least 2 possibilities. Such as terminating a pregnancy, or not.


Now be very quiet, now, softly, softly, there are some elephants ahead…

I am not comfortable with the notion of abortion on demand. There. I’ve said it. I am a woman. I am a feminist. I used to advocate for the legalization of abortion back in the eighties in South Africa when it was illegal. I knew some girls who went through back street abortions, because that was the only way to get them done. The girls I knew who had abortions all lived to tell the tale. Many others didn’t. Or almost didn’t. But right now, 2009, I am not comfortable with abortion on demand. (Let me take a deep breath.) Here is why.

One: Because for too many women, it has become the only choice they choose to make about reproduction. What happened to all the other choices? The contraceptives: the pill, condoms, female condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, IUDs, injectable contraceptives, to name but a few? Or even that time-honoured stalwart, abstinence! Failing which, what about carrying the baby to term, and letting someone who wants a baby, adopt him or her? More than half the women who choose to abort, have done so before! What I don’t know, is how many times before. I knew a girl at varsity who, in three years, had as many abortions. This was when abortions were largely illegal! No condoms, or pills, or IUD for her. Abstinence? You must be joking. No, her choice of birth control was abortions.

Two: Because somewhere in all this talk about the rights and freedom of women, we seem to choose to ignore the rights of the children. Stop. Stand still. Very still. Lions ahead…


I know all the debates and arguments about when exactly life begins. I respect all the different opinions on the matter. I just don’t agree with all of them. I don’t know when life begins. I can’t think of an embryo as a baby. But at around week 8, we stop talking about an embryo, and start talking about a foetus. Also somewhere between week 5 and week 8, the heart starts beating. By week 10, the foetus is distinguishable as human. So now that we have something that looks like a human being, with a heartbeat, I have to think of it as human. And human beings have rights. All of them. The men, the children, the women, the mass murderers and the rapists, they all have rights. So why not the unborn ones? Why do they not have rights? And specifically, the right to life. How come my right to determine what happens to my body supersedes another human being’s right to life? Shouldn’t I have worried about my body before I got pregnant? Maybe kept my legs crossed, taken the pill, or used a condom?

Let’s just pause a bit here. Take a deep breath, have a sip of water. What about women who didn’t get to make a choice? Those who were raped? Victims of incest, even? This is where my pragmatic self wins out over my ideological self. The world is not made up of black and white pixels. There are entire universes between two extremes. And women who have been victims of sex crimes deserve special consideration. As do under-aged girls. To a certain extent. I’ll get to that just now.

So, no, I am not a fundamentalist about abortion. But I can’t deny that I often get the impression that abortion has become just a little too easy to obtain, too convenient to choose.

One of my favourite bloggers (although she sometimes makes my head ache with her incredibly intellectual discourse), Daisy Deadair, posted South Carolina Abortion Bill. She does not agree with this bill, which seeks to enforce a 24 hour waiting period between viewing an ultra-sound, and undergoing an abortion. I happen to hold a different view, but fortunately I believe Daisy will defend my right to do so. As will I hers. I understand some of the objections, especially the one contending that poor women, who might have to travel some distance to the clinic in the first place, can’t afford to come back a second time. But this, like so many other reasons why people think it should not be difficult to obtain an abortion, mostly serves to convince me that government and NGOs and Health Care companies need to spend a lot more money on enabling people to exercise informed choices. Young people should be taught that there is a price to be paid for teen sex, protected or not. And it is not just the possibility of a pregnancy. Childcare should be far more accessible and affordable. As should contraceptives. And counselling. Including post termination counselling.

In South Africa, when a woman presents herself for abortion, which she can do up to week 20, she may receive counselling, including a discussion of all available options, and the physical and emotional side-effects of those options. Or she may not. The same with post TOP (termination of pregnancy) counselling.

Is that a cheetah up there in that tree?

And children! Girls under 18 must, by law, be advised to get parental consent. But they can choose not to. A 15-year old girl cannot have an appendectomy, or have her wisdom teeth removed, without the consent of a parent or a guardian, but she can have an abortion! If a family is truly so dysfunctional that a girl cannot discuss this matter with her parents, then social services should intervene. Otherwise, no, I’m sorry, she’s fifteen years old and should get the consent of her parents. Or their refusal. Not an easy situation, I understand. But life is not always easy. And actions have consequences. Part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for your actions, and to face the consequences of your choices.

Now I am talking from a South African experience here, and if you strongly believe that it is very different elsewhere, please let me know.

I am not advocating against abortion all together. But I do believe that women who choose to have abortions, should do so within the first 3 to 4 months of pregnancy. With counselling both before and after the procedure. Later terminations should only be allowed in situations where the life and physical wellbeing of the mother or the child are in serious danger.

What then about Ms. Suleman, and Mr. and Mrs. Duggar? I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe you can help me. I do not agree with their choices. Because of the children. Do those children get the material and emotional support that they need? That they deserve? I listened to Ms. Suleman talking about her choice on TV. She sounds very sane, but here is the scary part. She calmly explains that her desire for so many children stems from having grown up as a single child in a dysfunctional family. Now there’s more than a bit of irony in that. Today she is a single parent, living in a small house with her parents. Presumable the same parents from the dysfunctional family she is now trying to compensate for. She’s a psychology student, for goodness sake! Can’t she see how wrong that is, and on how many levels? She also tells us that her children help her connect. She doesn’t specify what they help her connect to, though.

Maybe I am too judgemental about these families. Maybe they are happy, well balanced, superbly functioning families. Like the Waltons, or the Brady Bunch.

Or maybe I am right. Maybe this is abusive, a different kind of violation of the right of the child. What do you think?

What I am sure about, is that people generally need to think more about reproduction. They need to think about the cost, materially, emotionally, on themselves, the children, their families, their societies, the world. Because we are all part of the greater ecology. And every child, born or unborn, produces a butterfly effect.


…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…

John Donne


I trust you enjoyed your journey through the jungles of my mind. I got a few scratches in the process, but am still breathing. I hope you are, too. Please let me know what you think. But do not become abusive. To me or others. This is both a contentious and a complex issue, let’s try to show each other our different points of view, rather than just the sharp end of our spears.

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Engaged signal

Posted on 18 January, 2009. Filed under: The world |

To my loyal readers, all 4 of you, yes mom, you too: I have not forgotten you. I just have to focus my attention elsewhere until the first week of February – classes to prepare, 3 more exam papers to study for (the first is behind me, thank goodness) a big presentation, and a house full of visitors this coming weekend!

I’ll be blogging away come February, griping about DVD players in cars, confessing my own bigotry, sharing my wit and brilliant insight into life with all and sundry. Till then, feel free to leave a message, I will be checking in.

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The legacy of George W. Bush

Posted on 9 January, 2009. Filed under: George Bush, politics, The world, USA | Tags: , , , , |

I’m going to miss him, that 43rd president of the USA. Like I sometimes miss Princess Sarah. The one from Wasilla, not the one from York. Always good for a laugh. Chief-cook-and-bottle-wash George is not as funny, but he always provides one with food for thought that leaves you somewhere between “amused” and “bemused”. Or “bedonnerd.” (Good Afrikaans for seriously p***ed off) Ever courageous, GW displays equal ease flirting with stand-up comedy and global catastrophe alike. He elicits a wide range of responses from me, ranging from the mostly negative – contempt, despair, loathing, hilarity, nervousness, fear, perplexity. And of late, as January 20th looms larger and larger, and I watch GW’s desperate attempts to re-engineer his legacy, I feel pity, wait, can it be, almost a sense of compassion for the man.

“So once I shut down my privilege of disliking anyone I chose and holding myself aloof if I could manage it, greater understanding, growing compassion came to me…” Catherine Marshall

Compassion not only for him, but also for his wife and daughters.

Now stop scoffing, and let me explain. Legacy, you see, is an important concept for me. Stephen Covey said:

“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfilment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution”

I believe most sentient people (and no, that is not tautology,) have thoughts about their legacy. I certainly do. And more so as the years go by. And I’d like to assume that for most of us, the overwhelming characteristic of legacy is positive. Making a difference. For the better. On the people around us; family, friends, colleagues. For the lucky ones, it is about improving our communities, our societies. And then there are the exceptional few who are given a chance to improve the world we all live in, at a national, or even a global scale. Many have the intent, but few manage to grab the opportunity. For me, becoming the president of the USA seems to imply the intent, and infers the opportunity. GW got that opportunity, not only for 4 years, like his father and Carter, but for 8 years, like Reagan and Clinton. All of them left a legacy, some of it better, some of it worse. Reagan and Clinton left more of a legacy, it seems to me, than Bush I and Carter. Probably because they had twice as much time. But the greatest legacy, I fear, is that left by Bush II. Unfortunately for him, it is a legacy of infamy, rather than fame. And I have to believe that a man who served his country both as a governor and a president, aspired, at some stage, to leave this world a better place.
I also believe the man is in constant denial about the cataclysmic extent of his inadequacies. But that is his defence mechanism. And he undoubtedly needs one. For without the denial, there can only be misery. Imagine holding Pandora’s box in your hands, and then opening it. How do you live with yourself? How do you look in the mirror after that? How do you face your wife, your children, your friends, your neighbours? The world? Depression, black and ominous, always threatening to shroud you. Just there, in the periphery of your consciousness. How to hold it at bay, if not by ignoring it? By unsheathing denial, that Excalibur of psychological survival.

This denial has to extend to his wife. In an interview on Fox News the last Sunday of 2008, Mrs. Bush said she knows her husband’s eight years in office was not a failure. Because how do you look at your husband, if you cannot deny this truth?

It must weigh heavily on his daughters. How do you face your father, the grandfather of your future children, if you have to acknowledge the awful reality? When 8 years ago, as young girls, you watched in wonder and awe as the whole world recognized what you already knew – that your daddy was Superman, infallible and indestructible. As daddies tend to be. And now, eight years later, as a young adult, you not only know that he is not, not and not, but the whole world shares that knowledge with you. Not only that, but the monumental failures are not that of an ordinary father. His failures have resulted in poverty, unemployment, misery, division, suffering and death. For millions. What will you tell your children? You can’t run, and you can’t hide. You can only deny. Deny the legacy.

And so I have to pity George, Laura, Jenna and Barbara. Because some legacies are just not worth having.

“To show pity is felt as a sign of contempt because one has clearly ceased to be an object of fear as soon as one is pitied.” Friedrich Nietzsche

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Hear the children cry.

Posted on 2 January, 2009. Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , |

So, while everybody is trying to convince Israel and Palestine to live in peace,  Africa  goes on being Africa, largely unnoticed, largely uncommented on.

On December 26, the day after Christmas, which for many of us means a lot more than Santa, presents and eggnog, a group of people were hacked to death at a church in the Congo. We don’t know how many, sources vary from 30, to 80, to 100, to 120, to 150. Apparently by a Ugandan rebel group who call themselves, wait for it, “The Lord’s Resistance Army”. I can only pray that they do not for a single moment mean the Lord as in Him, God. But then, given the general prevailing madness, who knows?

These people, mostly women and children (as usual) were hacked to death with machetes.

Hacked to death.


To death.

It doesn’t quite sink in, does it? We are so insulated, few of us have ever seen death up close and personal. And when we have, it’s usually in a peaceful, sterile setting. In a hospital. Sickness, old age, heart attack, cancer.  Not the kind of death that comes in vivid technicolour with smells, people urinating and defecating in fear. Shouting, screaming, howling, begging for mercy. Fear, hysteria, desperation, terror. Children, old people, men, women. Trying to get away, running, being blocked, herded like cattle towards certain death. Mothers clasping babies to their chests. Begging, for themselves, for their children. Children separated from parents, alone, terrified, calling, crying, not understanding how there can be something this horrible in the world. Not understanding how a mother or a father can’t protect them from this. No instantaneous death. Bleeding, an arm or a foot already hacked off. Scramble away. A kick, something broken. Another cut, more blood, more pain, more fear. How long till you wish, not for the salvation of life, but for the salvation of death?

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc,
et in hora mortis nostrae.

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Laugh or cry, you choose.

Posted on 2 January, 2009. Filed under: Cuba | Tags: , |

Being South African, I have a warped sense of humour, sometimes. Coping mechanism, I suppose. I also manage to fall around laughing at my own jokes. Someone has to laugh at them, and I fulfil the need in spades!

So there’s this joke about the old farmer going to the bar for a few shots. (Those of you in the know, picture the Dortsbult Bar. Oom Krisjan Lemmer et al.) So times are tough, the economy is rapidly being sucked into a black hole, and money is tight. The old man, quite a few shots of mampoer later (the local fire water), tells the assembled audience that, in order to save money, he’s going to teach his horse how to live on air alone.

Over the next few weeks he implements this plan, slowly giving the horse less and less food, until he finally stops feeding him altogether. About a week later, he’s in the bar again. “So, Oom, how is that horse doing?”  asks one of the young men.

Says the old man: “Nee, neef, it was going well, man. But just as I got the horse trained to live without any food, it died.” 

So when I read this week that Raul had told Cubans that they would have to tighten their belts, I had to laugh.

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Half the sky is falling.

Posted on 13 December, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Rape must be the oldest weapon used against women and girls. It is the ultimate violation, the ultimate assertion of power over another human being. It is an invasion, an assault, a humiliation, a violation. It trades on fear, loss of dignity, loss of power, loss of privacy, loss of self-determination, loss of self-ownership.The scars it leaves are internal and external, physical and emotional, and lasts forever. 

Ensler and Lewis wrote a heart-rendering account of the ongoing rape of women in the DRC.

In the multiple conflict zones of Africa, rape and female mutilation is rife. It precedes wars, escalates during times of conflict, and lingers for years into truces and peace treaties.

Rape and the mutilation of women are tools of terror to be found in any war, but nowhere do we see it as clearly as in Africa. There are probably multiple reasons for this:

  • The protracted nature of warfare in Africa: Most of the conflicts in Africa have a long history, brutal eruptions of horror interspersed by long simmering periods of unreported atrocities.
  • The seclusion of communities: Many villages have neither the means of transport nor the means of communication to report the brutal realities of war. No embedded journalists. No networks of bloggers.
  • The 2nd class citizenship of woman and girls: In Africa woman and girls are still second class citizens. They belong to their men, fathers, husbands, brothers, sons. They live to serve, to empower, to enable. 

It is time that the world should not only take notice, but act on this. We need countries, and the UN to pass legislation, or resolutions that will ban the trade in any resources from conflict zones that can in any way, directly or indirectly, fund continued warfare, insurgency and terrorism. This should also include a ban on trade with any groups or companies or individuals that cannot show proof of clear, acceptable and legitimate ownership. (Not ownership by corrupt governments, or bought from corrupt governments.) If we won’t buy from sweatshops, why are we buying from Rape and Pillage Inc? Any companies that are involved in this kind of trade should be named and shamed and charged.

But it is also time for the African Union to stand up and do something, rather than just talk about it.  The African Union, like the OAU before it, has become an old boys’ club that only talks. We are yet to see it demonstrate any resolve in a head-on confrontation of perpetrators of human rights abuses. The “quiet diplomacy” philosophy reigns, very admirably, but to what avail? Is it working, has anything changed? No? Well, then it is time for a more confrontational approach. The time for observers and peacekeepers are running out. What peace is there to keep when a country, no, entire regions of a continent, are at war with itself? When half the sky is falling?

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The Heart of Darkness. Part II

Posted on 15 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Of all the continents, Africa is the most beautiful, the most colourful, generous, vibrant and creative one. It has life, a pulse, music and a heartbeat. It is the richest continent, as well. Rich in resources, people, tradition, culture, history. Rich in promise and potential.  Now you may think I’m biased, but that’s only because you’ve never been there. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. But be careful where you go. Because the same riches that hold the promise of prosperity, is a double-edged sword that brings discord, abuse and turmoil. And this is starkly demonstrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo right now.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a volatile history, drenched in the blood of its people, scarred by greed. Just more than a century ago, it was the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. He did not shy away from using slavery, extortion, cruelty and abuse to plunder the rich African county for as much as he could. His ruthlessness succeeded in making him an obscenely rich man. It cost the Congo, by some estimates, as much as 10 million lives.

When Harold MacMillan’s “winds of change” blew through Africa, the DRC was not to be left behind. Young, charismatic Patrice Lumumba insisted on practically instantaneous freedom and self-rule for a country that had virtually no citizens with any government experience, no Congolese officers in the army, no Congolese professionals. Less than 100 graduates. But Lumumba was either oblivious to the demands of governance, or deluded to think that he could overcome the lack of skill. Sort of the Sarah Palin of his day. He became the Congo’s first Congolese Prime Minister,

Factionalism, tribalism and greed quickly turned the situation chaotic. Lumumba insisted on and received aid from the USA and the UN, but got upset when things did not go his way. He had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and when these could not immediately be met, the young, inexperienced leader decided to use the cold war to his own advantage. But playing the Soviet and the US/UN off against each other, swiftly led to his overthrow and subsequent execution. An old African expression says “When two elephant bulls fight, the grass gets trampled.” Lamumba, either through stupidity or a delusional belief in his own power and importance, had placed himself in the middle of the bull fight.

After a few years of chaos, revolt, looting and mayhem, Col. Joseph Mobutu, later Mobuto Seso Seko, took over, and led the country for the next thirty years. Although he maintained order, it was through oppression, torture and abuse, all the while enriching himself and his cronies, while the Congolese did not receive much benefit from their country’s wealth. Health care, education and infrastructure quickly collapsed, and the rich country plunged deeper and deeper into debt.

In 1997, Laurent Kabila succeeded in overthrowing Mobuto, became president, and assumed the mantle of tyrant and exploiter in charge. In his revolt against Mobuto, he had mustered support from Rwanda and Uganda. Now the piper had to be paid. And when the payment was not satisfactory, more revolts were organised, leading to the involvement of Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Namibia and Chad. Aluta Continua becomes looting continues.

In 2001 Kabila was assassinated, and his son, Joseph Kabila, was appointed as his successor. Kabila Jr has tried with some success to get rid of the foreign influence in the DRC, but that only means there is so much more for those in the country to exploit. At the same time, those that have tasted the prosperity of the DRC, soon grew thirsty for more. Hence the current situation.

That’s the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nutshell. Sadly, it is also the history of many other African countries.

In the next few posts I hope to explore more African countries, their history, failures and successes, and where they are now.

In 1985 I was finishing high school. Young, optimistic, Live Aid captured the interest, the imagination and the passion of my generation. When Bob Geldoff announced Live Eight 20 years later, it triggered an almost opposite reaction in me. I hope to use this journey to help me understand that change better. Because as dispassionate as I want to be about Africa, the atrocities are too haunting, the plight too devastating to ignore. But I want to make a difference that will make a difference.

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Hamba kahle, Mama Africa.

Posted on 10 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , |

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Miriam Makeba born 4 March 1932, Johannesburg, South Africa

                         died 9 November 2008, Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy

I remember, as a child, loving the sounds of “The Click Song”. For a white South African, the various clicking sounds so typical of the Xhosa language, are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to emulate. That never stopped me from trying. If you ever had to hear me contort, abuse and strangle the wondrous sounds of one of your most iconic songs, you would have wept. but I think you would have been proud, as well.

Your music represents a bitter-sweet era. When I listen to you sing, I imagine myself in the hustle and bustle of Sophiatown in the fifties and sixties. Kwela and pennie whistles. Mielies and paraffin heaters. But I never forget that for many years, you were denied access to the sights and sounds and smells of our beloved country. In my mind, because of this, and because of your stature, and your dignity, I often seat you next to Celia Cruz at the dinner table of my mind. I am just glad that you, unlike Celia Cruz, had the opportunity to return home, and to treat us to your copper voice on South African soil. And I think you would have been filled with an inner satisfaction that, though you had to die in a foreign land, you died after having done what you so loved to do – sharing your soulful music with others, and in pursuit of a good cause.

Your music inspired so many, in South Africa, black and white, in the United States, where Broadway was woed, in Europe, where you were celebrated and revered, and Cuba, where you were offered honourary citizenship, having been denied that of your homeland. (One of Castro’s few redeeming acts.)

Mama Africa, you said you’d like to be remembered as a good old lady. I am sorry, but in my mind’s eye you will forever dwell on the good side of 50, and therefor the best I can do, is to say you were a great lady.  You, like your music, can never be old.

Thank you for the music. Hamba kahle, mama.

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Heart of darkness

Posted on 9 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , |

Africa, my home, my birthplace. Even though thousands of kilometres separate us, you are always with me, in me, my heartbeat, my breath, my sorrow, my joy.

You are like a violent husband: I am better off without you, but my heart won’t stop yearning. I rant against your indiscretions, your temper, your fists, your insults, wishing to be rid of you. And then I cry, and crawl back, asking your forgiveness, trying to see where I’ve failed you. One kind word, act from you, and I forget the countless humiliations, bruises you bestowed.

You are the rotten child who steals my money to feed your addiction. You rob old women and young children, you lie and steal your way to your next fix. And then suddenly transfix me with an angelic smile, confessing, atoning, promising to do better, to be better. And though my head shouts “Tough love!”, my heart concedes: “My child!”

And I continue to live with the dichotomy, every time I see the evidence of your excesses and abuse, or your compassion and creativity. It is just that, as time goes by, that I see more and more of the former, and less and less of the latter. Is it my heart growing darker, or yours?

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The best of times, the worst of times.

Posted on 7 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

So here I sit, completely self-satisfied, surveying my fiefdom with glee. After all, did I not, single-handedly, manage to steer the USA past the icy shores of Alaska into the warm seas of Hawaii? Did I not alert the voting masses to the pitfalls of voting for a ticket with a marginal grip on intellect? Did I not spotlight the flexible relationship with reality displayed by said ticket? Did I not caution against the potential international scorn that would be unleashed were the wrong candidates elected to the White House? It fills me with no small amount of pride to know that I managed to save not just the USA, but possibly the planet, from unimaginable catastrophe and mayhem. Disaster averted, the world can sleep peacefully tonight. So can I. Nothing to interrupt my moment of serenity. Just me, my thoughts, and a glass of Southern Comfort that’s less full than I think it should be.

Oh, and an imminent meltdown in the Congo.

And Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow who was stoned to death in Somalia adultery. The nature of her “adultery”?  She had been gang-raped by three men. When she went to the militia authorities to report the rape, and to seek protection, she was instead accused of adultery and stoned. Initially reported to have been 23 years old, Amnesty International has now revealed that Aisha was 13. None of the rapists have been arrested.

For now, I’ll refill my glass.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to save the world from itself again.

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I’m not voting.Here is my proxy vote – use it wisely.

Posted on 4 November, 2008. Filed under: US Elections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

For almost two years the world, well OK, I, have closely observed the wheeling and dealing, the shaking and stirring, the positioning and the posturing of US politicians, vying for the position of the most powerful leader in the world. From the beginning, the Republican stable was uninspiring, bland, and predictable. It was the Democratic hand that excited and inspired from the word go: John Edwards, with his passion for the working classes, Barack Obama, young, energetic, and African-American, literally, and Hillary Clinton, the dynamite woman of politics. Even then, the themes of change and experience rang clearly through all the speeches and advertisements.

Now, it’s whittled down to 2 choices. (Well, sorry, independents, in 2012 I’ll pay more attention to you guys, and I do think the USA do you and the people a great disservice by ignoring you so much.) But today, less than an hour before the first polling station opens, I want to stick to the two main players in the race. If you have read my previous posts, or you know me, then you know where my support lies. At first I was really torn-up with the choice between Hillary and Barack, but once that was resolved, my position was clear. Unequivocally, I support Barack Obama. To a large extent it was a knee jerk choice, but I hate those, so today, I want to analyse and motivate my choice to myself, and to you.

I’ve heard pundits complain that Obama’s had a free pass, and that the media has not investigated issues as much as they should have. I don’t fully agree with the statement. I think that in the case of many issues raised, the public simply indicated that based on what was presented, it did not scare them, and would not sway their decision, and so the media moved on. Association and acquaintances simply paled in significance to the economy and two wars. But if Obama got a free pass, then make no mistake, so did McCain. Nobody really wanted to scrutinise allegation and insinuations regarding his POW years and his military record, planes crashed, bad behaviour. The swift-boat tactic wasn’t going to float this year. The Keating five, his temper outbursts, his emotional stability, all was given but scant attention. Sarah Palin, the running mate that nobody had even heard of three months ago, was ridiculed for the obvious, but superficial. Her abuses of office, the involvement of her husband in her governing, his and her ties to the AIP, Trooper Gate and the controversial Alaska oil pipeline were largely ignored. And nobody will touch her irresponsible behaviour with regards to the circumstances surrounding baby Trig’s birth. (Flying that late in a risk pregnancy, etc…)

On the topic of associations, again, for every dubious association of Obama’s, you can dig up one (or more) for McCain. Ex-domestic terrorist for ex-domestic terrorist, controversial pastor for controversial pastor, corrupt businessman for corrupt businessman. McCain can even trump with some mob connections, and communist military dictators. But who’s counting?

McCain keeps telling us he’s been tested, and he has. But the POW test more than 30 years ago does not count in a presidential election today. Presumably the president of the USA will not fall into enemy hands and be tortured to reveal the the secret location of the white house wine cellar. The tests that do count for president are these:

Calling the Iraq war                                            Obama 1    McCain 0

Calling the economic ressession                       Obama 1    McCain 0

Choosing a suitable VP                                       Obama 1    McCain 0

Ability to stay calm under fire                            Obama 1    McCain 0

Ability to run a big campaign                             Obama 1    McCain 0                                                             (as an analogy for running government)

So yes, Senator McCain, you have been tested, but no, you did not, in fact, pass the test. Any of them. Not the ones that matter here and now, at any rate. But Senator Obama did.

On issues of education, health, social services and the environment, Obama is my man. His compassionate, forward-looking approach to these issues might be far left (is it really, though?), but I’ll take it any day over McCain’s “each man for himself” pro-big money, pro-instant gratification approach to life. (Drilling not being the solution to anything except mucking up the planet even more, and putting money in the pockets of big oil companies.)

After one debate, the second. I think, Obama was criticized for frequently agreeing with McCain, or affirming his positions. The McCain campaign even tried to exploit it in their ads. I saw it as an example of Obama’s statesmanship, managing to reach across the aisle, something McCain constantly claims as his trademark. But while McCain tells, Obama shows. And how does McCain treat it? With ridicule, and trying to manipulate it for his own purposes. In fact, throughout the campaign, while Obama did not hesitate to take McCain on on issues, he always praised and honoured him for his service to the country. McCain, on the other hand, regularly treated “that on” with contempt.

Overall, I am less than impressed by McCain’s unpredictable, at times grumpy, erratic, full-of-energy-today, out-of-steam-tomorrow, doddering demeanor. I am bowled over by Obama’s calm yet energetic, nerves and spine of steel, caring image.

I don’t like McCain’s tough guy, brawny behaviour. Nobody expects him to go and fight a war, that’s what the army is there for. I’ll take Obama the brain, who will diplomatically and strategically try to avoid conflict, and if it won’t be avoided, he can use his intellect to wisely direct the army. Because that is what one expects a president to do. Not to physically lead the charge on the battleground.

On the issue of first lady, the intelligence, humility, charm, grace and poise of Michelle Obama is extraordinary. Enough said.

As a South African, how is this any of my business? Because America is a city upon a hill. At the moment, the name of that city is Mordor. I don’t expect Obama to work miracles, but even if he just butts out of everyone else’s business, that will be an improvement. If he changes and improves the way the USA interacts with the world, it will be a boon. I look forward to more caring, and less greed. More talking and less threatening. More friendship, and less parenting. And there is always the slight possibility that he’ll change the city into Shangri-La.

Now as I, disenfranchised citizen of the free world, cannot vote in this election that will impact on the whole world, I give you my proxy vote. Please use it. Get out there and go vote! Don’t get it wrong again, America. The cross goes next to Obama!

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    Welcome to my personal soundboard, where I can muse (you might call it ramble on) about things that interest, irritate, infuriate or impress me. In time, I hope this will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.


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