I received a phone call from Intercape bus company today regarding the letter that I send them last weekend. I was surprised that they contacted me so quickly. The conversation itself was an odd one. First the woman denied that something I did not accuse them of took place. I explained that I have not said that at the first place and then she went defensive. She told me this is how South Africa is and me and herself as an individuals cannot change the mindset that some people have. When I told her that of course we must do everything we can in order to get things better and to get people respect each others and more importantly themselves, she started agreeing.
After some conversation and me explaining what took place and why I thought it was unacceptable she was thanking me for bringing this up and she promised to organise some counselling to the ones I pointed out having problems.
I am not sure are they really going to take action. I hope they will. I feel good that I got my point across although I realise that probably if I would have an African name they would not have necessarily called me. But something needs to be done. She promised to be in contact with me when some of her supervisors return from their holidays. So I will keep you posted.
In the middle of one of the conversations that I had in Windhoek, Namibia something occurred to me. Something that I should have thought long time ago. I was talking about immigration from Africa to Europe and how poorly many wannabe cheap workers are treated by western officials. Then I realised that world as a whole functions much like apartheid did in South Africa.
Minority of people control the majority of wealth and natural resources and majority is left out although much of the wealth has been generated from their land. Rich parts of the world do not want to let the poor to come into their land. They are kept in the ridiculous queues and asked to fill all sorts of papers before they can entry to the areas of rich. When they finally get into these areas they are just about good enough to cook or clean for the rich and they will definitely be harassed by the police. That harassment is denied by the authorities of the rich countries. They claim it never happened.
Rich people also make sure that poor are kept poor by keeping the global trade as unfair as they can. Farmers in the poorer countries must sell their products with very cheap prices so they could compete in the global market place with the western farmers who receive the subsidies from their governments or from institutions such as EU.
Sometimes wealthy people must send their armies to the poorer areas as there might appear to be some unrest or a new leader, who does not agree with the western values. All of this is allegedly done just for the benefit of the poorer people. The irony of all this is that any government in rich areas would condemn apartheid now, a decade later, as an awful crime against humanity. Unfortunately few of them did that ten years ago, not to even mention twenty years ago.
People of the rich areas are kept happy with the media that is run and controlled by the people who want to keep the present state of things as it is. It is their economical benefit to keep things as they are. Average person living in a wealthy country just watches the news and concludes that we must be right because according to the media we are free.
Much like the old apartheid regime justified many of their unjust laws and actions as an action against communism, now the rich claim that everything is done in order to fight against the terrorism. A force that only seems to hit the countries that so eagerly oppose it.
Are we in denial or are we too blind to let all of it to happen again. Makes you think doesn't it.
As the Christmas celebrating people are getting busy with relaxing I am back at work after a nice holiday. Yesterday I came back from Namibia which is one of my favourite places on earth. It was very nice to do some travelling after all this time spent inside. Although my work is nice it still means that instead of the African summer I spend far too much time inside of the studios and offices. One of the best things about travelling, especially if you are travelling alone is the most intriquing conversations that you have with local people and other travellers. I want to mention few of these.
One of the first people that I met in Windhoek was Dan. He was an American volunteer working as a teacher in the northern Namibia which is quite rural. We ended up spending long time reflecting our experiences and comparing the urban poverty and rural poverty and the trouble they bring just as we spend time analysing all that we love about these countries. We also talked about underground hip hop which he had a good knowledge on.
Another American who I was talking for a long time was Marie. She was just travelling. Trying to learn about what is real and what is not. She was not too keen on the mindset of the America where her friends had asked her simply "but why?" when she said she wants to travel. Now that is a strange questions no matter if you like travelling or not. In United States only 18% of the people have passports which leaves 82% of the people never even going to Canada or Mexico. Luckily the 18% more often than not seem to be really nice people.
Samantha was a half Namibian and half Angolan. I met her in the shop where she was working and she started asking about my piercings. We ended up talking for a long while and I found out that she was actually a medical student. She was about to come and finish her degree in the University Of Cape Town. I asked her what will she do after that and I must admit that I was slightly expecting her to say to work in South Africa or go to Europe, but I could not have been more wrong. She said she will return to her father's home to Angola where they really need doctors. I felt ashamed of my doubts but I was very happy to hear someone caring about their homeland and wanting to contribute for it to get better. I am not doing much of that at the moment.
Another strong part Angolan part Namibian woman who I met was Rejoice. She was working at the backpackers where I stayed so we had long conversations about life in Africa and everywhere in the world for that matter, about politics and media and the mind of a human bing. She wrote beautiful poems and taught me to play chess.
I would say that what all of these people had in common was their will to find answers and not to be satisfied with what is given. I hope to them, I came across that way as well.
While on the road I came across few very disturbing incidences. First one took place already at Cape Town bus station where I was queuing up to the bus just like everyone else. Everyone expect the few white South Africans who just walked in without waiting and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. Second incident was 10 hours later as we were on the border of South Africa exiting the country. Again everyone is waiting in line to get their stamps and continue as few Afrikaners come and instead of departures, which they just like all of us were, they walked in the arrivals which was empty at the time. There were not even any officers there at that moment as they were all working with the people leaving the country. Afrikaner woman was stubborn and demanded to get her stamp before rest of us and finally they got their stamps and continued their travelling. Our queue had probably gone forward no more than few meters during this time as the officers needed to "help" these other people.
Altogether it is too sad. It is too much for anyone and the worst part was that not all of the people who let these things to happen were white themselves. Apartheid in all of it sickness was well working plan and therefore it is still living. Here is the letter to the Intercape bus company.
I would like to express my deep disgust over what happened while I was waiting to take the bus from Cape Town to Windhoek on 18th of December 2005. Bus was getting very full as the queue was long and one could easily tell that there is not going to be any spare room. While I was waiting in the queue just like everyone else, I saw handful of local white people just walking in the bus straight in front of our noses. They were welcomed in and they got to choose their own seats in the bus while everyone else were outside trying to hear what the rude and rather angry drivers were trying to shout as they did not have microphones.
There were few of these groups of white South Africans who did not need to wait but just walked in. I would like to know were there some sort of a reason for this action besides the post-apartheid racism?
I am not saying that all of the Intercape employees would have been rude but the few who were putting the luggage in the car were just shouting at everyone, the Angolans who were going home for holidays in particular. At one point driver yelled "I am the boss in this bus and I tell you what to do" with a serious face to a person who was not even saying anything but just happened to have more luggage than the average passenger.
I am not even writing this letter as a paying customer, which I also am, but a human being. Nobody should be treated like many of the passengers were on that trip.
I recommend you give your employees some training that they might need in the world that is changing constantly. I would like to get some kind of a feedback on how you decide to act.
My friend from back home is always telling me different stories and anecdotes he has read from various different books and publications. One of my favourite ones is about Albert Einstein, who apparently on his last times was working on something he called “The Theory of Everything”. On his deathbed he was busy talking something that might or might not have been this mysterious theory, but because Einstein never learned English and the nurse did not understand German, we will never know what he was on about.
Whether this story is true or not, is irrelevant. It is a good story about communication. It is often distracted not only by an actual language barrier, but also different accents, slang and general ways of talking. Anyone who regularly, or even ever, communicates with language other than her/his first, can confirm this. Communication is one of our most important strengths but if it goes wrong it is our downfall.
The reason why I am writing about this is my previous piece about Baobab Urban Youth Conference. I was on a mission to find out what actually was being said by Dead Prez. I was emailing about it with Gia’na Garell from Air America radio’s On The Real programme and she forwarded my mail to a person called Umi, who is representing the band in question. He wrote back to me a very angry mail about me broadcasting and spreading foolishness and petty BS. There was no mention about “pimpin the system “ comment but they denied some other rumours that I am not going into as they said it was not true and I believe that. Needless to say I was not broadcasting any of this and his accusation was completely based on assumption. That adds up to all the other miscommunication around this matter as I do not know where he got this idea from. I was not spreading anything that was not happening. I cannot tell the absolute truth as I do not believe one exists but I can tell what I see, hear and read. So I did.
Umi went on in his mail suggesting that I should concentrate on the positive message of himself and Dead Prez coming around talking to the youth of Cape Town. I do not generally like to blow horns to people who demand that, especially when they are just doing something they are paid to do. I think it was cool that they were there but the amount of miscommunication was unfortunate regardless of what or who was the reason for it. In the end it is not about pay checks, accusation of what I have done or have not done but what the teenagers walked out with.
This all leads down to a conclusion. It is not so important what is being said but what is being heard, not what is shown but what is seen or what is written but what is read. Even if you had the theory of everything in your head but before you pass away you cannot communicate it, it will not benefit us. If you order a vegetarian burger in fast-food place, but they hear chicken, you are getting chicken. It was not your fault, but unless the miscommunication is fixed it will be your problem.
Baobab Urban Youth Conference 2005 was held this week here in Cape Town and it was an event like no other that I have attended. Firstly I must say that youth and young people are so vague terms in this world where everyone tries to look like a teenager, so I was not quite sure what to expect. Youth was more in its original meaning of teenagers and under twenties in the event, which made me feel very old, but I believe one can learn everywhere if so wants.
Event started with opening speech from the Shamiel X, the organiser and the person to know if you are in Cape Town. Some other speeches were also heard, including one from Lee from Yfm, one of the strong women of African radio broadcasting, video messages from both blastmaster KRS-one and Chuck D of Public Enemy and finally a few strong words from M1 from Dead Prez who was participating in the event and who still mispronounces Uhuru, a Swahili freedom chant that he is so keen on.
Needles to say that I was quietly listening, especially the message from Chuck D. That was a great moment.
After the opening we all went into the panel discussion sessions. There were different rooms such as media, Hip Hop, NGO:s, Government and corporate. Every room had handful of experts, who were answering the questions and sharing their views. Every session was organised twice so that everyone could attend two of them and I started of with media room, which was quite typical media discussion about the ethics of commercial media and how community media can do things more freely. It was interesting because it was in South African context, so although the questions would have been the same that I am used to, many of the answers differed a lot.
Another discussion was about Hip Hop. Young people mainly asking different questions from the panel that was consisted of some of the great names of SA rap such as Ready D from the POC, Emil from the Black Noise and Shame from Godessa and they answered as they could. And they did well. Actually I must say that they made more sense than many other rap people do ever in their lives. Even I felt good about the future of hip hop for a while which in itself is a rare occasion. Both of the sessions that I participated went well and were very informative I thought.
The drama had taken place in a session that I was not in. Apparently in the first Hip Hop panel also M1 from Dead Prez was talking and he started to talk about their ideas of "pimping the system". Emil from Black Noise had, and this is all hearsay but it is heard from the participants, said that it might just be the last thing that SA needs as there is well enough trouble with crime as it is. I must say that I appreciate the strive for Pan-Africanism by Dead Prez and the idea, that they are Africans in America, but I wish that they would not act so much like Americans in Africa.
Emil from Black Noise came across as one of the clearest minds in the conversation. Their music is good as well so I give them my full support - as if that would make much difference.
During the course of the day we also had an excursion to the District 6 museum. District 6 was an area where many of the so called black and coloured people lived still in the early sixties but which then was torn down by the racist apartheid regime and people were forced to move kilometres away to the townships that were then created such as Mitchell's Plain, Langa and Gugulethu amongst others. District 6 itself is right in the heart of Cape Town with the most wonderful views both to the sea and on the Table Mountain. I did not need to be reminded about the horrors and evils of apartheid, but I was. I suppose we all should, just so that it would never happen again anywhere in the world.
I spend almost all of the day with my friend Shaqir and we did not go to the evening jam where Dead Prez and some local bands were performing partly because of the transportation problem and partly because it seemed like a teenage event.
The whole day was great. It was very positive experience to see the raw energy and ideas that young people were having. It was positive experience that this kind of event was organised and that the local artist gave their full support and even some from overseas wanted to give their time for this. I learned quite a bit and not only the fact, that I am not part of the youth anymore.
I have just finished a feature about the Johannesburg township of Soweto. You can download it here.
Also just when I have critisised the latest Dead Prez release I hear that I am going to see them live this Friday. There is a big hip hop workshop and youth summit taking place here and they should be attending. I will surely write more about it later.
It’s been a while from my last writing. Time here has been hectic. I have been running to the banks and police station to make all sorts of statements, had a slight return of stomach bug and my finger is still sore. Latter merely means that I needed to learn a one new finger for my four finger typing system and my mouse finger needed to change. But I have promised myself not to dwell on the negativity but to hold my head up high – sounds cool when you say it out loud, doesn’t it.
Some happy news that came across my way. I learned that the Al-Jazeera International television news channel has opened up bunch of offices in Africa and might be the first one to actually to talk about the continent also when it is not only about corruption, war or famine. Well that is what they promise at least. This obviously is the same Arabic TV station that George Bush allegedly wanted to bomb because their news coverage was not quite like the one of the Fox news. Maybe this channel could be the first step towards balanced news from all of the continents and the end for media suppression of… well everyone who is not white male.
Also on the South African side the grand township of Soweto in Johannesburg is getting its own community TV station to accompany Jozie FM which is a local community radio. Jozie FM has been quite good at what it has been doing and possibly the best known for their infamous radio version of the Cheaters which has been exposing the people cheating in their relationship. The word on the streets is that people are driving from around the Gauteng province on Wednesday evenings to the outskirts of Soweto to hear the show. That truly shows the power of a radio when it is done right and when idea is juicy enough. I hope the new community TV station will live up to these standards and at the same time I also wish that the Cape Town community TV starts getting a bit more support and funds to get started. For the rest of the world I just hope that we could wake up and understand the opportunities of community media.
On the negative side of things, and I feel this must be mentioned, I was rather disappointed with the album RBG by one of my favourite rap groups Dead Prez. This album has been released a while ago but I only got it now. Beats were not very strong and message, to me felt quite distorted. Far from the brilliance of their Let’s Get Free album. Sad really because great American rap groups can be counted with the fingers of one hand these days.
Few weeks back I wrote how "western" media likes to pose African paedophiles as ignorant people who follow sick traditions which really are not even traditions but plain misconceptions and their "western" counterparts as ones with some sort of a medical disorder. At least in South Africa the penalties for Europeans are not too harsh as a Swiss corporate lawyer Peter Zimmermann flew home after agreeing in the court to pay R10 000 fine which equals to approximately 1500 Euros after raping ten year old boy from Alexandra in Johannesburg.
Lastly I must mention that this week I was interviewing some street kids and recording their stories. Whoever has a chance to read this text should be happy about their lives because those kids have it rough. Never-ending circle of police harassment, imprisonment, more crimes, beatings drugs, rapes prostitution etc, are something that we do not even have nightmares about. More power to them. I hope that my feature on them could help at least some people to understand that life in the streets, especially at the age of six or younger, is not really your own choice. At the moment we have sixteen days of activism going on opposing the violence against women and children and these stories fall under that campaign, as many children left home after being abused. Us men really need to step up our game because more I read, see and hear, the more convinced I get that, regardless of your colour or religion, it tends to be the men who are behind all the madness that we like to call the present state of the world.