“It’s a strange strange world we live in…

…Master Jack. No hard feelings if I never come back” so philosophise Four Jacks and a Jill in a song they released during the struggle in South Africa. The song was popular internationally and locally. I suspect the local popularity might have been because people liked the tune not knowing it was a struggle tune. I’ve always liked the song and only learned about 7 years ago that it was a struggle song. It didn’t matter to me and to this day I often get it stuck in my head. I really like it.

It resonates with me today because we are still living in a strange strange world. Frankly, for the first time in maybe forever (baring the World Wars) it feel like the whole world is experiencing strange times. Some stranger than others but we’re all in some version of it globally.

Of course in SA our strange times are what I refer to as interesting times but for others they are scary times. There are lots and lots of people I know that simply say “no hard feelings if I never come back” as they starting packing theirs hearts and eventually their bags for immigration.

I don’t know how to respond to these people. In reality I want them to know that I am disappointed if they go. If I can see a future for this country why can’t they? If I can argue that every country has it’s issues (and now potentially more true than ever) and moving will only result in some other drama then why can’t they see that?

Yes, living in what some perceive as high stakes mortal danger (versus say, Canada where violent crime is rare) might seem stressful but I’d rather live in a way where I can do my best to manage my danger than potentially get killed while watching Batman in the cinema. It probably helps that I’m quite fatalistic and that I feel that dying could range from a tree falling on me (I know someone who dies like that), to being hit by car (a fear I really have) then being a victim of crime. Yes, there are preferential ways to die but either way I’ll be dead. Oh, I don’t believe in jinxing my fate either if anyone in concerned by my musings.

I know leaving is about more than just dying but for me staying is all about the living.  I choose to live in a country where  have seen people beat all the odds time after time, where I have seen altruism and gratitude. Where I have seen good win and seen good people lose with dignity and extreme victories not boasted about. I have space and freedom here, I have other South Africans and I have that African dust on my boots. These are real things and these are things worth fighting for.

So, I don’t argue with those who want to leave because they need to make their own choices. But I do hope that my example and dedication could keep more people here and at the same time help develop a country we can all be proud of. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime (because who knows how short that will be anyway) but it will happen and I want to know I helped.


We’re in it for the long haul

I’m living my life in kind of the best of time and the worst of times. I live in a country where we have amazing human rights, lots of land and great wine but our political climate causes the kind of uncertainty that sometimes just wants to drive your head into the nearest hole or even on the path to immigration.

I’ve made it clear that I find these times interesting as I think our political climate has reached a point of frank discussion and the man on the street understanding that he has power. More and more questions are being asked around corruption and while not everyone will get taken to task for their dishonesty more and more people are at least asking questions which prove that we are not satisfied  as a nation by fat cats and tax abuse. The people who defend our version of a free world are constantly being badgered but they are strong.. They are as strong as past leaders who liberated this country who realised that while they might not win the fight they will win the war.

I was inspired today by a video clip I watched as produced on Beautiful News South Africa as produced by News24. You can watch it here. It’s a good story in itself about how Enos Mafokate worked for what would become his symbol of revolution and success and  how he became a community leader and business man in a free South Africa. What struck me as really powerful though is his simple statement at the end of the clip: “I have learned a lot. You mustn’t look only [at] yourself. You must look far away.”

This is powerful because it summarises struggles and hardships in such a simple way. He’s version of struggle is different to the current struggles (youth unemployment and corruption) but they are struggles non-the-less and we simply can not expect them to be solved overnight. It’s not always about now and me, it’s often about us and tomorrow because it’s only by working hard and forging ahead that we will realise the other thing he said knows with certainty “Give South Africa a chance; you will see a miracle. I’m telling you, it’s number one.”

I’m here to agree with him and do what it takes. I’m in it for the long haul and I know there are many others like me. Despite how hard it might be now, it will be worth it.

South African generosity is a well spring

There has been a severe drought in SA for what seems like ages now. Some areas have received rain recently but four provinces have been declared disaster sites. The government has made some effort to help but people are still dying in queues while waiting for water and children are competing with cattle for drinking water. Hundreds heads of livestock have been lost and a lot of people are in dire straits.

Thanks to the South African spirit of innovation and generosity thousands of people have come together in order to do what they can to support communities in need. One 1l,2l or 5l at a time ordinary South Africans have been helping in campaigns to bring some relief to those in need.

Individuals and companies alike have used social media to mobilise and the results have already been evident. People are digging deep and networking up a storm to make sure that everything is done to avoid more death. It’s heart warming to see the pictures and read the stories. People are simply helping because they can but they’re making friends along the way and literally savings lives. It’s amazing.

This to me is the value of the South African spirit. We will not let each other suffer despite our difference. It’s amazing how an emergency can bring people together.

I encourage you to get involved. I’ve already rallied my colleagues to donate water and one person alone is bring 55 litres tomorrow which I will take to a drop off point who in turn will take it to a truck depot. Every litre helps and can save a life.

Visit their website for drop off points and their FB page for updates. Please don’t delay to join the cause

The Good and Bad bundle

The last few weeks in SA have not left me feeling particularly optimistic and that’s why I have reserved the urge to comment on so many things that have been going on the in my country recently. However, today I feel considerably better and I thought I should do a very brief retrospective on news stories which have caught my attention recently.

Before I do that though I think it’s important to say that although a highly passionate person I do try and see things from all perspectives. I did a year of Philosophy at university and am actually qualified as a Journalist so I fully appreciate the need to be measured and empathetic. Below is not a news report though and should not be seen as such. This is my opinion on matters based on how I have interpreted issues based on the information I was exposed to at the time.

#feesmustfall :

This topic makes my head spin a bit as there are so many ways to look at this. I could have dissected this in an entire blog post but in the spirit of a retrospective I will be pointed. Firstly, I believe education should be affordable. It is sad that qualifying people can not study because they do not have the funds. Yes, they can get loans but there seem to be issues and irregularities there so this might not be the optimum Plan B to pay for your studies.

However, I do believe that there should be qualifying criteria for people who want to study. You can not simply be “entitled” to a tertiary education. There are worldwide expectations for someone who has a degree and it aggravates me that people do not want to work in order to obtain a degree. The benchmark for educational standards in SA has become too low and it’s disgraceful.  We are sending young people into the world ill prepared of what the working world should be expecting of them. I do think that a lot of these people are often the cause for protests of this nature and want to cause ructions because they believe in this entitlement. That is not acceptable. These people should be taken to task.

Ultimately #feesmustfall was a victory for students but it does concern me that now young people think that violent and disruptive activities will get you what you want. They need to learn that there are alternatives to such behaviour and at the end of the day you should still need to study for your qualification.

The disenchanted youth:

This is not a defined issue or headline but it’s something that I am recognising as having an ever increasing presence. There are so many talented young people in South Africa who simply have not seen the dreams of a free and fair state realised. These are often the people who have just been left on the sidelines and they don’t know what their options are. These are the kind of people who respond to radicalism and will believe whoever seems to be making progress on their behalf. The government missed the boat completely on these young people and it’s sad and will have negative consequences over and above a few statues being pulled down if things carry on.

Oscar Pistorious:

It makes me ill even thinking about him and all the drama around his conviction(s). This is why I write about it here though because people should really ask themselves why they are so interested in such a sad situation. While the brutal killing of a person makes me sad its people’s obsession with this killing that makes me sick. This trial gets all the attention because he is (in)famous but what about all the other cases which often just don’t get resolved because our justice system is so bogged down. While people suddenly pretend that they care enough about Reeva to want “justice” for her and her family I do wish we would care enough about all victims to demand the same justice for them. Most people are following this case for all the wrong reasons.

Heineke Meyer:

I’m so glad he’s gone .He was bad for SA rugby because he does not seem to have the ability to analyse his opponents or even his own players. He had access to some of the best talent in rugby and let South African’s and the players down.

Strike season:

Yes, that’s a recognised term in South Africa. I have no problem with people taking action within the confines of the law, but unprotected strikes are unacceptable. Even worse is that often strikes lead to the damage of property and willing workers getting victimised and hurt. That is not acceptable. Damaging the infrastructure your company requires to provide the service that provides your salary is not logical. Unions need to start reflecting on what they tell their members and made responsible decisions regarding true economic matters.

The water crises:

We’re clearly in a drought and so it’s no surprise that municipalities have put water restrictions in place. However, some questions were raised around whether failing infrastructure was part of the problem. I have no evidence to that extent so I wouldn’t carry on with that. However, what I have evidence of is people who still blatantly waste water. Why are companies washing their parking lots in a drought? Why does my neighbour still water his perpetually green lawn? Why do you taps still leak? People need to also take responsibility for themselves and realise that a group effort could curb a lot of waste. One encouraging this was how many people took to Twitter to report burst pipes and in JHB the municipality did respond quickly as far as I could tell – may the trend far outlast the water crises. 

Three finance ministers in four days:

This is the topic of the moment. From the second I heard about Nene being replaced I have had the following Kimya Dawson’s lyrics stuck in my head “And we’ll pray, all damn day, every day, that all this shit our president has got us in will go away”.  It seemed apt at the time.

For me, replacing Nene was one of the hardest moments to face as a South African optimist. It really seemed that this move threatened our country and our democracy because it became very evident that the President could do powerful things without parliamentary approval.

Panic was clearly an option a lot of people chose. My husband is an economist and was suddenly getting questions from friends about what they should do with their investments. It wasn’t panic without reason. We lost a lot of money in a few days and prospects for next year looked bleak. I chose not to panic because I believed this was a storm we could weather albeit it uncomfortably.

But then something else happened. South Africans lived up to their true potential and rallied against this sudden move. It happened so quickly that full analysis will be hard for anyone (but I’m sure there are a few Masters students out there who are going to try) but the point is that is happened on an unprecedented scale across all sectors even across all political movements. South Africa was unhappy .

And so comes Sunday night when the President countered with a startling move “new guy out, older guy in”. Of course this was also a surprise but a welcome one. This does not magically change things but it does stem the negative consequences. More importantly though it shows that the South African democracy still means something. My personal opinion is that “the investors” knocked on the Presidents door and just said “no”. Other people think that it was a politically motivated decision because popularity is important after all. Whatever the reason something positive came from something which made all of us very distressed.

That’s as brief as I could make this retrospective. I’ve covered some important issues and some less important issues but these are things which I have noticed in the country recently. There are many more things that have happened though so expect a second instalment of the retrospective soon. If anyone wonders where my optimism stems from (other than the fact that I think South African’s a good people who will strive for a great future) it comes from the fact that I enjoy living in interesting times. The Chinese and Terry Pratchette interpreted this as a curse but I think it’s an opportunity and I feel privileged to live in these times.

The train to the future

I absolutely can not believe that I haven’t written a post about the Gautrain before. I am so positive about this railway and bus network that I should really bill them for rendered marketing services. Little ol’ me has added a lot of value to their brand. I recommend it to colleagues living in Pretoria and working in Jo’burg, I tell my Couchsurfers to take it when they first arrive in the country, I tell everyone to take it to the airport. I absolutely love the system and how well it works. It is a triumph for public transport in this country.

This being said, today was the first time I used it for business travel between JHB and PTA. I’ve used it countless times to the airport but that’s quite an exclusive route so I didn’t really see how the other routes were being used. So, today I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.  It struck me how many black people (the majority by far) were using the train and I think it is great. This surprise stems from the fact that when the train launched it was said to be too expensive for anyone other than high paying businessman. High paying businessman in South Africa are still very much white males so you can understand that I was pleased to realise the stigma hadn’t panned out into reality.

Then I was stuck by the true revelation: The train on its simple North South Route exemplifies where South Africa should be heading in terms of the wealth and power spread. Clearly the people on the train could afford to be there. They seemed relaxed there. They belonged there. They were everyday commuters. There was no stigma around them being there. They weren’t privileged or stand out- they just were. In the years ahead all places in South Africa will have this spread of people. Currently black and white are still disproportionately split but as time goes by, wounds heal and education reaches everyone this train will be like anywhere else and visa versa. The train to me now if almost what the Cosby Show was in the 90’s – a reflection of normal people being normal. Stereotypes and stigmas suck. Look at what is really happening around you. It’s great to see it already happening on such a small scale but it gives me hope for the future and the point that we normal people will all truly get along in the future.

Motivation is everything

The state of the nation bothers a lot of people. It bothers me. The difference between me and a lot of people is that I really believe in this country. I want to work towards making it better. I am not a politician, or a superhero and can only do so in small ways but I damn well am trying. There are lots of people like me. There are lots who do it better than me. It is encouraging

What’s disheartening are the people who just complain. They complain a lot. Often on Facebook. I feel like I’ve been inundated the past few weeks. Now, I am not for a second pretending that bad things don’t happen. Nor do I think it’s ok for someone to try and break into your house. It most certainly is not.

But I do take issue with people who just seem to complain for complaining’s sake. I wonder what they are doing to try and make it better. You’re living here. You may just as well make an effort. This paraphrased sentiment from Mumford and Sons puts is in perspective for me:  You will only win when your enemy is bigger than your apathy.

And therein lies the truth. People really are complaining for complaining’s sake. They’re not really as badly off as they seem to think or make out to be. Because if things really bothered them enough, IF it really was so important to them they would be doing something to make a change. Most of us are not activists but we are also not helpless.

Start with the basics: Get to know your neighbours. Lead by example. Do not drive drunk. Do not bribe that expecting cop when he pulls you over for driving drunk. Do not allow the municipal worker to tar your driveway for a couple of hundred bucks when that tar is destined to fill potholes. Don’t buy bootleg media. Support your local video store who actually employs someone and thereby support their family. Tip all service. Overtip excellent service. Say please and thank you. Leave some good food for the guy who digs through your rubbish to recycle your plastic. Choose your charities wisely but then give generously. Support your colleagues child’s school raffle. Greet and acknowledge each other. Don’t get angry over nothing and for petes sake – stop complaining and make a difference. And Buz Lurman will be fine if you share your sunscreen.

A good giggle at ourselves

Go to You Tube right now and watch the new Santam ad. If you are South African or have ever been to South Africa you are going to enjoy it. You can’t help yourself. It’s a simple ad about insurance but I find it delightful.

Santam want it to drive home appoint about their product offering. For me it drives home a much more important point: South Africa is wonderful and unique and even our problems need to be seen in perspective. It never occurred to me that anyone could laugh at the idea of load-shedding and yet here is it happening in a believable way.

I love the way the country is perceived in this add. The true South Africa I harp on about is in this ad. We have cool hippo crossings, and our car guards really are awesome while we really can pull a pick-up (bakkie) full of water anywhere to make a splash pool and light a braai right next to it. We can and we will and no one will laugh at us. Frankly, I should organise a bakkie and braai party soon. It’s not something I would normally do but what a great idea.

Life is interesting here. Usual and mundane goes out the door as soon as we leave our “Western Offices” in the evening and especially over weekends.

So, if you’re South African remind yourself how great you are and how great we have it here and if you’re not South African some visit and we’ll teach you about a Chop ‘n Dop and we’ll watch out for baboons.

Fare well Proteas – no really

The fans gathering to send off the Proteas
The fans gathering to send off the Proteas
The Cricket World cup is upon us and the South African team, our Proteas, are ready to get on a plane tonight. I am lucky enough to work in Melrose Arch, where their final farewell is being hosted. A lot of people took off work to say good bye to our national team. A team we are proud of – most of the time.

I like cricket. I like the sentiment, I know the rules, I like it’s relaxed, yet highly technical and strategic way. I love that all you need is a bit of space, a longish flat surface a bat and a ball to get a game together. A street and some neighbourhood friends can make for a great game. The barrier to entry is very low so all ages and all genders can play in the same game. It really does bring people together. It’s a cool sport. I also love our national team. The Proteas consist of highly skilled, often best in the world, players. They beat out the opposition in great fashion – most of the time.

And therein lies the problem, for all the love I have the Proteas, I’m always waiting for them to disappoint me. Some way or another they are going to lose a winning streak. Or bat like Trojans and then field like mice. For a group of “best in the world” people they get if wrong more often than seems conceivable, year after year.

I know that our rugby team, the Springboks, also lose. They’ve actually not been that great lately, but they have got two world cup victories under their belt. I watched both victories, I can recall in precise detail what those victories looked like and how I felt. The Proteas have not delivered this to me. Even Bafana Bafana who really have performance issues have pulled one great victory at the CAF Cup.

It’s a weird place to be for our cricket team. It must be hard on them. The nation really does like them, some people don’t miss a match, will set aside entire weekends to watch tests, and yet, somehow, we don’t know if they can pull of a world cup victory.

So, dear Proteas, farewell on your journey and then please fare extra well at the tournament and bring home some silverware

Jo’burg, reveal your secrets

Yesterday (2 Oct 2014) marked the start of the ABSA Johannesburg Festival with the theme Go To Town. The festival focuses on getting people to enjoy the inner city again an celebrate its revival.

Jo’burg is a city rich in history and beautiful buildings and architecture, it is very undervalued as such though. As people moved out the inner city a lot of this was forgotten and literally abandoned which is clearly very sad. Jo’burg is the city of gold, we should cherish it.

So, enter the festival and a lot of great events paired with it. As I love the city I took the opportunity to attend the opening of a new venue TheSheds@ 1Fox. The name says it all. This massive space is basically an old shed in the city. Some parts date back to before the Boer Wars and is thought to be one of the oldest existing industrial buildings in JHB. It was used for this purpose for years until it was eventually left dormant and empty.

The Johannesburg Land Company purchased it at some stage in the hope of redeveloping it and its neighbouring buildings in the future. Well, enter two Jo’burgers: Jan Roode of Happy Me and Gerald Garner of Spaces & Places – JoburgPlaces, who “discovered” the building and in 2014 signed a long term lease so they could try their hand at something potentially awesome.

I got a taste of that potential last night and dare I say I really enjoyed it. The space is now essentially a food and hand made goodie market coupled with an entertainment and band area. There is soooo much space in this old relic and their vision just makes it all fit together. It’s very eclectic and somewhat rustic but it is very cool.

The courtyard between The Sheds and an old brick factory

To my delight some of the original building fixtures are still in place and I marvelled at the old wooden doors and the tall brick factories next door. Buildings with history and spirit make me happy and this shed had plenty of that.

My friends and I dined on Smoque street food of brisket and pork belly while enjoying great craft beer and being entertained by a folksie type band. What more could one want really.

1fox view from the top - Photo by L Snyman The bar area

This place is a gem and I hope people see the potential and book gigs and parties and bands and weddings and markets and birthday parties and whatever right there. Right there in “scary” Jo’burg city where things are beautiful and life is rich.

Don’t wait. Just go.

One nation on 15 (23) men’s shoulders

For all the disgrace of our past South Africa is also famous as a nation brought together by sport. Hollywood brought you Invictus as evidence of this. The 2010 Fifa Football World Cup proved it again. Chad Le Clos’s dad represents all of us in how sport makes us feel: excited, united, proud. Everyone who dons the green and gold belong to us. They are our champions and we support them.

I was reminded of this on Saturday 27 Sept when the Springboks took on the Wallabies at Newlands (a South African homeground). Most of us had been speaking about the clash for days. We discussed tactics and team strategy and our hearts went out the players who had been injured in the previous test. We are their supporters and they belong to us. We care deeply about them.

I wore my Springbok jersey on Friday as did thousands of my country people. Thousands more wore their jerseys on Saturday. A nation united with all our hopes and happiness pinned on a team of 15 big men and their replacements on the bench.

I’ve always been a keen rugby supporter and while I can’t pretend to know much about tactics I do know where the player’s strength and weaknesses lie. I know what makes them a strong team and a remarkable bunch of people.

There was some public scrappiness a few days before the test because Oupa Mahoje was going to be in the starting line-up. People were speculating on whether he had earned his spot or if he was just a quota player. To those people all I can say is that you clearly don’t understand team sport and team players and frankly he should have been offered a chance a while ago. He isn’t quite number one is his position but he plays with heart and we were lucky that we could call on him when we needed a replacement. Fortunately the whole things seemed to blow over by game day.

And so the crowds packed into Newlands and our boys stood alongside the Aussies to mark the start of another 80 minutes of our national pastime. And what an 80 minutes it was.

It was a tough, hard, physical and stressful game. Minor and some stupid errors, and the Aussies defending like warriors had us on the back foot almost most of the game. I watched my boys play hard and fast and still we could not move them. The stadium grew quiet as everyone started wondering if we could pull it off. My husband had predicted that we would win by 20 points. For about 60 minutes it was in doubt whether we would even win. It would have been bad. Losing to the Aussies on home soil when your team in clearly working hard would have been heart breaking. The newer and younger guns in the likes of Serffontein, Coetsee and Hendriks were playing their guts out and yet we were behind.

And then, a few things changed. Some veteran replacements came on, the ref warned the Aussies of infringements, Lambie converted a penalty to put us one point ahead and the crowd got excited again. Newlands’ atmosphere changed and the game got new gusto and suddenly we were a dominant team. Balls went to hand. Leaps were made over tacklers. Balls were legitimately stolen and the crowd kept singing and chanting.

We scored three tries in the last four minutes. A feat achieved because new and experienced worked together. Talents and enthusiasm pooled together and gave every player the burst they needed. It was rugby at its finest.

The whistle blew and we had done all we had set out to do and what the nation had hoped for. Jubilation ensues to this moment and we’ll talk about this one for years to come. No matter who you are in South Africa you will know about this because it’s important that we stood and conquered together.