Sunday, 27 August 2017

It began on a farm, 
near an African barn, 
but wee children in the head-high grass,
Each taking their chances, 
on the horse saddled prances, 
near the lake top surface of glass, 
of glass,
Near the lake top surface of glass.

Long years trundle on,
The children, once young,
Grew to twenty and more day by day,
The farm long forgotten,
Two paths so far trodden, 
Took young friends apart and away, away, take young friend apart and away.

From many moons by the sea,
To gold city returned he,
Trading books for a suit and tie.
And she found a care,
In a hospital there,
No more sleep for a tired night eye, night eye,
No more sleep for a tired night eye.

And then came the day,
Young friends found their way,
Back to arms so old but so new.
Young friends meet once more!
Found a tree house to adore,
One another till the chilled night air blew, till it blew, one another till the chilled night air blew.

And today here they stand,
Loving hand in loving hand,
Asking if their forever they might share?
For it'd be quite a tale,
Of a love ne'er to fail,
Forever held in a hope and a prayer, a prayer, forever held in a hope and a prayer

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Selling out the Springboks


Someone got a hold of the Nelspruit pitch paintbrush. In fact, both Ellis Park and Newlands appear to have suffered a similar fate. “Blue Label Telecoms” have snatched the very familiar spot where the ABSA logo has been safely nestled for years, between try-line and twenty-two, and that cosmetic change – harmless as it might appear – speaks volumes for the rumblings at the heart of the rugby franchise.

If you’re anything like me you may have decided to look somewhere other than the rugby being played in the first test at Mbombela Stadium last weekend. On show, for the majority of the match, was an adamant Argentinian team, regularly upending the Springboks best attempts at enforcing a ‘strategy’. We were as lucky as we were clinical in those dying moments of the game, and fortune smiled upon us when we squeaked away with a victory.

Fortune did not smile upon us again in Salta. The Argentinian victory in the return leg has put paid to the belief that there is anything special about the Springboks of today. We are officially in a “rebuilding phase”, which is a nice way of saying that our current best just isn’t the best.

Remember the Lions in their “rebuilding phase”? It took relegation and a four-year slog to finish second in 2016.

During our many head-in-hands moments at Mbombela, I found myself pondering the new blue rectangle emblazoned on the field just inside each twenty-two. It is of particular interest given the wholesale au revoir recently received by SA Rugby from its previous cohort of sponsors.

ABSA was one such sponsor, saying cheers to the green and gold just before the negotiations for contract renewal were to be wrapped up late last year. The official line from both parties highlighted an amicable split, which is a bit like your best friend telling you that he and his girlfriend recently came to a ‘mutual agreement’ to ‘part ways’. She left him. Buy him a Castle. Castle never left no-body.

This unceremonious farewell smacked of a similar withdrawal received by the bank itself, after Barclays Plc put the Project Serengeti red-to-blue rebranding exercise on hold as it prepared to “Axit” (Brexit’s African cousin). This must have left a sour taste in CEO Maria Ramos’s mouth after pulling a really solid set of results out the bag for 2015, as well as shunting bucket loads of dividends – albeit rand denominated dividends – to London over the previous decade. None-the-less, Barclays is out of ABSA, and ABSA is off the rugby field.

The question remains: why?

It is no secret that SA Rugby been has rocked by transformation politics for decades. Ever since the token non-white inclusion of Chester Williams in the famous 1995 World Cup victory over the All Blacks, the Springboks have struggled to maintain a serious claim to legitimacy in South African sport, with team after team boasting far more “Uit die blou van ons se hemel” than “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika”. It doesn’t help that the crowd can sometimes be heard shouting Beast! (Tendai Mtawarira’s affectionate nickname) when Siya Kolisi, Oupa Mahoje or Bongi Mbonambi take a crash ball into the opposition forwards.

Many have speculated that one of the core reasons behind ABSA’s exit has to do with this transformation conundrum. Being the progeny of Volkskas and United, among others, the amalgamated banking group has had its fair share of transformation issues in South Africa’s democratic era. Julius Malema (leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters) recently committed to occupying spaces of ‘white monopoly capital’, with ABSA first in the crosshairs. At a time when the bank is slogging it out with Capitec for a share of the emerging retail market, it is not surprising that ABSA is suddenly more conscious of the corporate image it portrays in these demographics. This will be especially concerning to their management when it is clear that Capitec is winning that race.

If the saying “put your money where your mouth is” holds true, then that provides some pretty dire criticism for the state of transformation in South African rugby. Here is a bank that has been happy to fund a sport to the tune of millions annually saying, “actually, no-thanks” at the eleventh hour. Let’s be clear though, this is not because they couldn’t sponsor the sport. Have you seen your bank charges lately? ABSA can be anybody’s blesser. It is because they didn’t want to. By their calculations, it is no longer in their best interests to do so.

This begs the question as to whether there is any fire under all this smoke. There are a few factors that might shed light on this quandary.

Firstly, Fikile Mbalula, our effervescent Sports Minister, recently put ‘Waka-Waka’ privileges for South African Rugby on hold, after confirming that the union had not been able field enough non-white faces in the last season. This was met with far-reaching outrage, with many criticising the moratorium as one that would actually harm the development initiatives of the game, not aid them. To be clear though, ‘enough’ is 35% non-Caucasian, which might be considered a paltry target in a country that is less than 10% pale. A bridge too far for our rugby playing fraternity apparently, and as a result ,the politicians have annoyingly intervened once again.

Whether you agree or disagree with the action taken by Mbalula, we can surely all concede that the teams we commit to represent our nation are by no means representative of our nation.

Secondly, if one looks at the resource pool from whence the national selection predominantly stems, there are only a handful of schools that have been producing the majority of our Springboks for decades; a trend which has not changed in recent years. This was an incredibly successful model of development, especially in an era when the All Blacks didn’t kick so much ass. But in the professional era of rugby, officially proclaimed after the success of the 1995 World Cup, the effectiveness of this process is now contested terrain.

While these schools may have their own transformation agendas (recent hairdo politics might cast serious doubt on this front though), the fact remains that the majority of the players leaving these institutions are also white, evidenced again by the composition of the Springbok Under-20’s team recently competing at their World Cup in England. For those calling on the sports minister to instead look at grass-roots development to affect transformation goals, rather than fiddling with national side quotas, there is a depressing lack of ‘black’ in our teams of tomorrow.

Institutionalised racism, anyone?

Frankly, we are still playing by the rules that won us World Cups in decades past. Doing the same thing and expecting different results – far cleverer people than me have called that insanity.

Lastly, we have quite simply got our development initiatives wrong. The state of financial ruin exhibited by the Eastern Province Kings has trickled onto the rugby field, with the franchise struggling to place higher than last in almost every competition they play in. Given that this was a pet project of the erstwhile SARU President, Oregan Hoskins, one would have hoped that ten years would be enough to create a credible institution from the ashes of the Southern Spears franchise. Alas, it was not to be.

If anything, the failure of the Kings is a clear manifestation of how low the transformation imperative features on our rugby administration’s priority list. There are certainly individuals within that administration that appear to give the issue some airtime, like the aforementioned Hoskins, but they have either been too scarce or too impotent to affect any serious institutional change.

Looking at the performance of our untransformed teams, one should note that we are down nine out of the last ten matches we’ve played against the All Blacks, with all indicators pointing to more of the same in games to come. There was a time when our record was better than 50% against New Zealand, but that is a long forgotten memory that only Oom Frikkie still reminisces about around an Oranje campfire. While the All Blacks have reinvented themselves on an institutional scale, the Springboks have been left playing the amateur rugby of the 90’s.

The dynamic institutions of tomorrow have spotted the changing winds in South Africa. Capitec is successfully lending where no bank was previously willing to lend. Curro is educating a burgeoning black middle class, and investors cannot stop throwing money at them. ABInbev just signed a $100bn cheque for the company that learnt how to sell shabeen beer in the townships where few dared to tread all those years ago. History will look kindly on those that found a way to reinvent the status quo. We should expect nothing less from the Springboks.

Until we can effortlessly field a team of “all blacks” against the All Blacks, we simply cannot say we are playing to our full potential. SA Rugby needs to get smart and take the sport to every corner of the country, so that every corner of the country can give us back a Springbok. There is more than a claim to legitimacy at stake here. Unless little kids in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal are dreaming of one day playing for Amabokoboko, there is no chance that we will be world beaters once again, for one simple reason: math.

Mandela made a powerful move by giving the Springboks political legitimacy in 1995. It was an olive branch that our nation, as well as our rugby team, vitally needed at a time of great uncertainty. It gave our boys the strength of a country, and gave our country the strength of hope. Over twenty years later, the rugby fraternity is yet to return the favour. Instead, team after team has shown the middle finger to the transformation imperative. The sponsors have spoken. This attitude is no longer an option. We need a Kings-Canes final, and we need it in the next five years.

We all want the Springboks to be a winning side again. Madiba showed us what the beautiful gift of unity can provide. And let’s be honest, the boerewors just tastes better after beating the All Blacks. The only way that will happen again is if we’re all pulling in the same direction, not just a handful of Smiths and Van Der Merwes.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

A Voice for my Vote


Something got Granddad excited this weekend.
He is a man that has dedicated his life to art, teaching and photography. He is the quint-essential hipster bohemian. In fact, on the rare occasion that I wear my Granddads clothes, I feel incredible (a song reference, for those born pre-1990). So it is always a big deal when something gets him excited, because he spends the majority of his time pondering his next existential artistic comment on life.
In the kitchen this past Saturday my grandfather arrives with a sense of urgency in his step.
“Hello my boy,” – there are only a few people in my life that get social license to call me ‘my boy’ at age 25, and Granddad is one of them – “you need to come and see this.”
“OK Granddad, I’ll be right there.”
In the midst of rushing to get to the Lions game before kick-off I was more abrupt than usual. Adorning as much red as I could muster I was frantically searching for a Castle Lager hat I won at a corporate function a few months prior. After a few moments I noticed he was still at the door, waiting for me. Odd that he hadn’t pottered back to his studio - clearly this was urgent for him.
“Alright Granddad, what’s up?”
He led me through the yard and sat me down in front of a TV set next to his bed. There on the screen, adorned in his standard blue suit with a crisp white button shirt, stood Mmusi Maimane, Obama-fying a crowd of equally blue DA supporters.
To understand why this rally on the television had my grandfather in such a grip of excitement, some context is needed.
Granddad turned 79 this year. That makes him a toddler the day Hitler starts a war that would bury 60 million people. That also makes him an observer to the fall of Smuts, the rise of DF Malan and the eventual crowning of the ANC as liberators and saviours of the Republic of South Africa. Plenty spectator value available if you plan to live for more than seven decades.
Over dinner he once told me about printing posters for the Progressive Party on his personal printing press in the garage out back. Always an ardent supporter of Helen Suzman, leader of the opposition to the oppressive apartheid government, it made sense that he would eventually end up helping ‘the commies’ in one way or another. My grandfather was merely the latest subscriber to our familial habit of being anti-establishment – his mother, my great grandmother, was a loyal member of the Black Sash movement which actively campaigned for gender equality during the apartheid years.
He also told me about his dastardly election luck.
“I have voted in many elections my boy, but I am yet to vote for the winning party.”
There’s some real gravitas to that realisation. Imagine spending a lifetime being led by the people you never asked to lead you?
It is no substantial hardship, to be fair. The man found himself on the right side of a racially oppressive system, which has undoubtedly led to his grandchildren leading the rich and fulfilled lives they do today. His voting predicament lends but a lens to the current political rumblings.
Granddad was excited because he felt, for the first time in his life, that his party might win.
Watching Mmusi on that stage, effortlessly stringing together a work of multilingual magic certainly gave me shivers. Delivered with such poise and honesty, Maimane’s speech began to mend the rent in my trust that had been so unceremoniously ripped by years of political babble by our incumbent leadership. He effortlessly wove a tapestry of hope, calling us South Africans instead of “blacks” and “whites”. There was another man who seemed so able to mend the broken faith of a nation. His name was Nelson Mandela.
Maimane took pains to explain his personal journey to the top of the official opposition’s ranks. From his days playing soccer in the dusty streets of Dobsonville to his eventual conclusion that the ANC of Zuma was not the ANC of Madiba, Maimane took us through his emotional realisation that South Africa simply could not continue of its current trajectory. His frank, honest delivery created the perfect foundation for all of the goals he intended to score.
No, Madiba would not vote for the current ANC. Yes, it’s ok to change your mind for each election. No, the DA hasn’t got it all right so far, but it’s doing better than the rest wherever it governs. His speech provided the perfect crescendo to months of electioneering, a musical resolution fitting the final pieces together of the election promise on offer: jobs, clean governance and service delivery for all.
Stepping back into my grandfather’s shoes, I could understand why this was a big deal for him. He had studiously followed the Progressive Party and all of its subsequent iterations for his entire life. This Dobsonville rally represented a culmination of decades of work, and he felt that finally his version of non-racial, liberal governance might have its time in the sun.
Cards on the table: it will take a monumental effort to effectively squeeze one of the contentious metro’s out of ANC grasp. The Ellis Park rally on Sunday evidenced how the African National Congress is more religion than institution. But cracks are appearing in the veneer, and the hens of patronage and looting seem to be coming home to roost. Polls in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane are postulating a two-horse race, with a potential king-maker in the wings led by Julius Malema. Clearly ANC polling is saying something similar, as there has never before been so significant a backlash from the ANC to the official opposition. Too little too late?
The apartheid government also tended to ignore Helen Suzman and her ‘commie’ ideals. Perhaps if they had paid a little more attention they would not have been blindsided by the anti-apartheid movement so convincingly. Isn’t it interesting to see how much things seem to change. Even more interesting is how much they stay the same.
Granddad has believed in non-racial governance his entire life. Under the apartheid regime he silently worked on the side of liberation, in the small ways that a bohemian hipster might contribute to the struggle: a poster here, a provocative piece of art there. Now, standing in that living room, watching a black man lead his party with pride, I can only imagine the emotions swelling in his heart. At the age of 79, Granddad might get his first opportunity to vote for the winner.
He will likely never be able to see his ideals represented in government - this country is still a while away from a serious political hand-over. But on Wednesday 3 August 2016 he will cast a ballot, and on that ballot he will write a hope. A hope for a democracy he may never be a part of. A hope for a leader he may never follow. A hope that his children’s children might one day live in the non-racial South Africa he spent his life dreaming about. Democracy can be beautiful. Sometimes you just need to wait awhile to see it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

SABC Blues



There are a few fundamentals that underpin a healthy democracy. Safety, security and a robust opposition rank high among them. Perhaps the most important democratic bedfellow, however, is information. Shortly followed by access to information.

Cue Hlaudi: our resident see-no-evil extraordinaire.

Here is how you derail media freedom, Hlaudi style:

Step 1 – team up with pay-per-view media monolith DSTV owners to throw every possible spanner into the digital migration works. Encrypted set-top boxes are a no-brainer – they will lower the barriers to entry for up-and-coming media houses like e-TV, while simultaneously bringing down the prices charged by the incumbent monopolist providers. It is one of the undisputed areas of capitalist prowess. Competition is important.

Predictably, the SABC threw its weight in the opposite direction, after scoring an economically senseless deal with Multichoice for a little free airing on its dishy platform for a few years. This is after big boss shareholder, the ANC - through Parliamentary control - had already resolved to go the encrypted route.

Granted, the lack of digital migration has more to do with Hlaudi’s boss, Minister Faith Muthambi, than it has to do with him directly. It would seem highly unlikely however that we would not hear about his discontent, if there were any to be heard. So we must conclude that he is complicit by his silence.

Step 2 – pay yourself a shit-load. Then some more. Oh, and a little more after that. Because after you fake your qualifications and score the top job at a national broadcaster, the rational thing to do is to fill your pockets as fast as possible. How he managed to have control over his own salary is yet to be revealed, but our man H&M is styling on R1m more than he had in 2014, without adding much to the Mzanzi Magic so many South Africans hold dear. Even our favourite heroine, Thuli Madonsela, said she don’t like the smell of his pay-check, but like most Public Protector pronouncements this issue was merely swept under the rug.

Step 3 – throw down the gauntlet to your reporters’ independence by banning coverage of violent unrest around election time. Apparently we citizens are incapable of viewing the embers of our public amenities without rushing to the nearest Putco bus with fire-lighters in tow. Best you take your viewing rights over to free-to-air e-TV… Oh wait, Hlaudi’s nailing them as well.

The big question you keep tonging on the roof of your mouth? Who benefits...

Judging by the ANC manifesto launch, everything is fine and dandy. They will be running into the 2016 municipal elections with their “Good Story to Tell” record on repeat. It’s pretty hard to keep your eyes on the Good Story pamphlet while Tshwane is burning on the TV screen in front of you. So maybe we have our answer. After all, the world is as you propagandise it, is it not?

Step 3.1 – discipline reporters for telling the truth. Acting-CEO Jimi Matthews was having none of that (after years of having plenty of that) and tenders his public resignation, because he’s had it up to here with screwing people out of their own democracy.

Boom. Hlaudi-capture complete.  He’s King Joffrey with a bit more swag.

But who cares? I mean, no-one watches SABC anymore, right?

Wrong.

Generations just rebooted its entire cast faster than you can say “I hereby tender my resignation because Jeremy Corbyn is a dick”, and yet South Africans just keep eating it up. In fact, between Generations and Uzalo, the two shows have amassed around 8 million viewers apiece in 2016 (I wish I could add them together for effect, but I can’t guarantee Ma Ntuli isn’t watching SABC 1 from 8pm – 9pm, thereby getting her daily dose of both soapies).

Prior to the reboot, Generations was pulling even bigger numbers, with a whopping 10 million viewers religiously tuning in every evening to watch Tau, Zola and Karabo do their thing. Let’s add a little perspective to those figures: Egoli, at its prime during the Mnet Open Time era, drew roughly 1 million viewers per night. Yes, that’s right Egoli fans, you ain’t got nothin’ on Zola.

So here comes the democratic kicker.

People who watch SABC 1, vote.

Let that sink in for a second. The news is on just an hour before the 8pm soapies begin, and the news is where we get that thing they call “an informed electorate” from. If you don’t want to be like that grumpy Yorkshireman, waking up to Google what the “EU” is the day after spanking it out the front door, then you care about having an informed electorate.

If 8 million people are sitting in front of their TV sets when that familiar “dun-dun-da-da-dun” of the seven-o’clock news begins to play, that’s a pretty significant proportion of our 25 million registered voters figuring out who burnt what today in Tshwane. Assuming only half of those viewers can vote, of which only half do, that’s still 2 million crosses put next to their mayor of choice. Less than 2 million votes put the EFF in Parliament. Less than 2 million votes stood between Brexit and Bremain. Less than 2 million votes secured Gauteng for David Makhura and the ANC in the last municipal election. And in an election that looks to be the most tightly contested in this country’s democratic history, our Generations watching comrades could just be the King-Makers.

That’s why we care about Hlaudi’s self-censorship policies. In an age when thugs rule the roost, and the Security Cluster is controlled by patronage serving loyalists, we need that democratic lever they call “The Vote” to be cast knowledgably, knowingly. The national broadcaster is our tax-funded vehicle for that knowledge. You have a right to know what is going on in the country you live in. You have a responsibility to vote accordingly.

If our citizens are being pacified by the dulcet images of Hlaudi-ville, they will vote as if that were the truth. For anyone in need of a brief history lesson, Google “apartheid era media muzzling” to see the effects of putting whities to sleep in the midst of their country’s own anarchy. History has already judged them poorly for it. We cannot repeat that mistake.

Safety, security and a robust opposition are absolute prerequisites to a healthy democracy. Without them we simply cannot hold credible elections. So when someone starts tampering with your information, whispering sweet nothings in your ear about the state of your country, it’s time to get pissed. You have the right to know when Rome is Falling. You have the right to know who’s safety and security has been taken away. You have the right to know how angry the people of Tshwane really are. Because, when it comes down to it, you have the responsibility to vote for the future of your fellow man. And best that vote be informed, or else Hlaudi will hold the keys to the castle.

Put simply, Hlaudi can’t win, because if he does, you lose.

 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Transformation: One Gautrain ticket at a time

I love riding on the Gautrain. It looks, and feels, like progress. It’s a piece of infrastructure built on the African continent that appeases the capitalist gene hardwired into the left hemisphere of my brain. A physical manifestation of the Africa Rising rhetoric. Look Mom, we CAN look after ourselves!


But there is another, more important reason why I love the Gautrain. It has to do with community. In our strange (read desperate) post-apartheid geographic city set-up, where Black, White and Coloured live here, there and yonder, there is nothing quite like an arterial public transport route to stick everyone on the same escalator. There Gauteng, have a good hard look at yourself – albeit at a predominantly middle-class version thereof.


What else could have brought our pale males to the heart of town, out from their soft suburban shells, and sat them next to mama Theki who works in accounts in Midrand? Certainly not the next Lions fixture at Ellis Park (she’s probably a Bulls fan). No, this incredible feat of service delivery actually delivering a service has given us a chance to see what a microcosm of our country looks like, two decades after turning a newly democratic leaf.


And I’ll tell you what, for the Bryanston and Bedfordview boytjies it certainly has a slightly more colourful tinge than our weekend braai’s might suggest.


Thank goodness…


As if Operation Transformation could wait any longer. At a time when the news echoes stories of “blackface” and “Fuck white people”, it’s comforting to get out into the real world and find some perspective.


“Hello fellow South African. Would you look at that! I haven’t painted myself darker effectively spitting in the face of hundreds of years of your ancestral slavery. I’m also really glad you haven’t tried to dispossess me of my land on this train ride, under the guise of rectifying historically ill-begotten wealth. Isn’t it amazing how civil everyone seems when they’re not on the news?”
At least that’s how the conversation plays out in my head as I’m waiting for the next train to Park (a four cart train, departing in seven minutes, according to our train hostess over the intercom).


And then there’s the contrasting impression left by the disintegrating skyline of the Joburg CBD, superimposed on your subconscious as you emerge into the ever-rising vantage of Sandton. Dense, bustling streets of little retail versus the beating heart of big business in Africa. Yesterday and today. Today and tomorrow. Both accessible on an eight minute train ride via the hipster haven Rosebank. One can only imagine the possibilities of a Soweto stop wedged into that equation.


For the first time, everyday well-to-do South Africans can glimpse, in real time, the realities of urban decay, urban renewal and urban investment (read four sexy new Sandton structures for our local capitalist monoliths), not to mention the heaving aftereffects of rural-urban migration. Geography teachers everywhere get down on your knees and kiss the toes of your beloved deities – this is a lived case study of city demographic movement.


This is not a social solution to our every problem. Naiveté would suggest there is such a thing. And in many ways the viciously exclusionary pricing model of the service is acting as an economic barricade to the majority of our impoverished populace. It is simply a touch-point. An opportunity to rub shoulders (literally) and spend that one iota of extra time with people a little less like you. If your train rides are anything like mine, invariably you get to chatting about that witty magazine headline, or the shirt that says “I was shot in Joburg”. Or – if you’re really lucky – about the latest budget speech your fellow traveller delivered in Parliament and how they’re holding up against the Zuptanami (yes, Pravin travels Blue-Light-Brigadeless).


If I were the Captain of this Gauteng Ship, and I had to decide how best to spend our tax-payer’s money over the next five years, I’d budget for a few more stations, stretching further South, East and West. Let’s stir that melting pot.


I’d also install a Mugg & Bean On The Go at every exit. Coffee is important too.


Do yourself a favour. Take a trip to Park. Buy a ticket to anywhere. And who knows, you might just be lucky enough to lose a prejudice along the way.