17 June 2008

Coincidence? I don't think so.

I am not sure if this was by chance. Seems unlikely, but who knows. A bread in surprisingly precise shape of Africa. Okay, of course it’s not exact, but we must give it some break, it was a bread, a ciabatta, for goodness sake. This is my version of the holy mother appearing in things to catholics: )

Book Fair 2008 ends

I lack some very basic qualities of a journalist. Not that I am not cynical enough, but at times I can also get excited. I dont feel the need to criticise what doesnt need criticising. I am openly out of the closet fan of certain things. I dont think that makes me less objective when I talk and write about them; after all, I like them because I like them. Theres no particular unconditional love in these fan relationships.

As a journalist and as a fan the past few days have been exciting because I think, as sincerely as I only can, that South Africa is living very interesting times literature wise. The new wave of Black, often a-political, witty, intelligent and engaging opinion leaders and writers has arrived in a big style and I have had a chance to chat and meet with almost every one that I have enjoyed reading. Granted there must be others that I didnt get to meet and whose books I havent read, but its been a privilege nonetheless.

Like the previous post was already plugging, the last one of these new guys was Ndumiso Ngcobo. The author of Some of my Best Friends are White chatted with us after his presentation at the publisher's stand. Hes pretty cool; a bit of an anecdotalist and observer. He also blogs and based on the book, blog, presentation and our interview, hes a kind of person that one would like to have as an in-house opinion machine. To sort of comment every story, and hey, since both in his book and presentation he mentioned an arrangement similar to this being his dream, if only we had the funding to hire him, we probably would.

Tuesday is the last day of the book fair. We’ll still go there to record bits and pieces before we put everything finally together. It’s been busy but wonderful few days. It’s great time to live in South Africa. It may not be a perfect country, but having lived in a handful of countries, what is.

16 June 2008

Book Fair day two

The second day of Cape Town Book fair was not nearly as busy for us as the first. That doesn’t mean that the good stuff wasn’t good, just that there was less of it. At least for us there was.

Morning, well it was at eleven, started with a talk “Making Light of the Dark Continent” in which author Sihle Khumalo (he's the one in those photos below) was being interviewed. Now, no person who has been walking into a book shop within past half a year or so, couldn’t miss his book Dark Continent My Black Arse. It’s a great travelling book - an African exploring Africa. Sounds refreshing and it also is just that. Sihle came across like a cool and humble guy just like Niq Mhlongo and Thembelani Ngenelwa on previous day. I hate to say this but I’ve been so surprised how down to earth writers seem to be. I don’t know what I expected. I guess I’ve always given much credit to anyone who writes a book, almost any kind actually, and partly because I have a background of interviewing all kinds of pop musicians who have opinions of themselves.

Sihle Khumalo speaks

We’ve almost done with a small feature on Sihle as I also got to interview him one-on-one and that will be featured here in next few days.

Monday, the third day of the event, doesn’t leave us cold either. It’s quite incredible that we’ve so far had a chance to meet most of our favourite new and young(ish) authors of the new SA and last one is Ndumiso Ngcobo. He’s talking on Monday about his witty and observational Some of my Best Friends are White. We hope to ask him few questions as well.

Notes from the Book Fair... first patch.

Good times. Cape Town Book Fair is taking place this Youth Day long weekend at Convention Centre. Our first appointment was to go and listen to some of the younger generation authors talking about their work in a panel discussion. One of my current favourites Niq Mhlongo was the initial reason, and we also managed to get some one on one interview time (well, two on one to be precise), and he talked to us about his work, African values and how to get young people interested in reading. We had consensus that over-emphasising Shakespeare (to whom I haven’t yet even given a chance) can easily scare people away from reading just in general. That same topic we also covered with another panelist from the discussion, Thembelani Ngenelwa. It was a real pleasure to hear what both of these guys had to say and since we’ve been so excited about the new wave of Mzansi literature I felt privileged to be able to connect with some of the more interesting talents. The actual panel also featured Zukiswa Wanner and Willem Anker. With them we didn’t have interviews, but recorded the discussion itself so there may be some material coming with them as well. We’ll put some audio online from these interviews.

Niq Mhlongo interviewed

Niq again

Thembelani Ngenelwa

George Bizos

We’ve also been busy recording more material for our forthcoming Xenophobia documentary which attempts to look a little deeper and understand what’s been happening in South Africa. On top of our otherwise insightful interviewees we added one more definite A-lister on the roster. We talked with legendary George Bizos and what an honour it was indeed.

Three more days left and we’re planning to attend all of them if everything goes as planned. From Sunday I’m definitely most looking forward to Sihle Khumalo who wrote the brilliant travel book Dark Continent My Black Arse. But more about that when it has happened.

8 June 2008

Third year here

Today's my third blog anniversary. Well done me.. although there's been many droughts and in particular up to very recent times I hardly wrote at all, it's not a problem. It's nice to be here now and hey, three years, I must be bit older and wiser than I was and world has changed a bit as well. Even if no one else would have followed these thoughts for three years (and I know for a fact that at least my dad to whom these work as lessons in English has), at least I have online documentation of what I thought and how between 2005 and 2008 and then beyond. I think that's pretty great. This has been my platform to learn about the online environments and the other place I work a lot these days is our company Voxpop Africa Media website. My wife Amkelwa also became a blogger this week and check her site Inner Sense here.

5 June 2008

Dr Mamphela Ramphele.. again.

For the second time in the past month we had a chance to hear Dr Mamphela Ramphele speaking. She is the co-founder of Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and generally incredibly sharp individual with enough love for her country to criticise it. Tuesday night’s event in the Book Lounge was part of the launching of her recent book Laying Ghosts to Rest. I am still yet to start reading the book as there’s been few others on my reading list before that, but I hear it’s an interesting one to say the least.

Unlike on last occasion, we actually recorded her speech, or rather question and answer session, and we are going to use that in our future projects for Voxpop Africa.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele signing her new book

The photograph is actually from the previous event at Cape Town’s Waterfront. This time we didn’t have time to take photos.

As a side note: we’re going to see one of the top comedians of all time Chris Rock this Thursday and while the event is purely social (there’s certain amount of red tape to record such events i.e. you cannot do it) it’s very exiting nonetheless.

3 June 2008

Photographs from anti-xenophobia demonstration

After posting my previous post I immediately found myself in the middle of a major demonstration against xenophobia. While my wife Amkelwa was interviewing the participants I was busy taking photographs. I have been taking photos of demonstrations before and it’s notable that the photos tend to always end up looking more dramatic and intense than what the actual event did. I suppose that has got to do with the fact that photographer finds him/herself drawn to the dramatic scenes, rules out uninteresting, which most often means calm and peaceful scenes and people, whether they are shouting and chanting peacefully or angrily tend to look similar and our mind conditioning, especially in the case of Moslems is that surely they are upset. That is also why coming back from such an event and checking the pool of photos myself, I end up feeling torn about the seriousness of what I witnessed. And in the name of clarity, I mean seriousness as in was there a personal threat to me, not was the issue at hand serious.

Having said this, check the photographs from this link. As said we also recorded audio and are currently working on that.

Amkelwa doing interviews in anti-xenophobia demonstartion in Cape Town.

2 June 2008

Xenophobia: The poverty of terminology and just in general

I had started writing about the South African situation earlier but I wasnt quite ready then. I am talking about what has been largely, at least here if not internationally, called the xenophobic violence. I am obviously a foreigner in South Africa so xenophobia should be my concern but I never was convinced that the term in itself quite addresses the problem at hand. Surely what took place falls under the xenophobia, but its not all of it. Much like all carrots are vegetables but not all of the vegetables are carrots, and the reason why its important to get first a bit stuck with rhetoric is that not being clear about what we are dealing with can be counterproductive and at best confusing and focusing on the wrong things. See, in South Africa xenophobia is a commonly used word. No one here needed to be explained what it means as its been part of the public discourse for a good long while and these recent incidents were just examples of that. I have never experienced any hostility as a foreigner and no one has ever suggested that I came here to take the jobs and women although I kind of did (well only one woman, but still). 

Having lived four years in UK I must admit that I did experience xenophobia at times, but I never heard the word itself. In Europe we dont like to use these words but we rather all, silently if possible, agree that there are some citizens who dont like people coming from other countries. Therefore, when talking about xenophobia in South Africa it has been made to sound more serious problem on non-physical level. Ill come into the physical damage in a moment and I am not the one to belittle the suffering of people, deaths and thousands who were forced to move to the temporary refugee camps, who lost their property and businesses and who had to, or still have to leave the country. Theres no way one could undermine that horror, but I think that in order to understand we have to look a little deeper. Also, as the country still has a group of people whod love nothing more than to see the young democracy failing so they could say told you so, makes focusing on the immediate problem like trying fix a broken leg with a band aid.

I had a very interesting chat with a friend of mine this week and he said that this has got very little to do with xenophobia and I for one was convinced. I had been thinking about it before, but he just put it so well that I wanted to finally write it down. The reason is of course poverty; an extreme case of it as well. After the 1994 elections many people have raised their standard of living tremendously. Theres a whole new middle class and a lot of capital that is now, unlike before, not under the threat of leaving the country as soon as someone says something like land reform, redistribution of wealth or nationalising any of the stolen resources (I dont mean BEE - the affirmative action - as its tackling the issue from a different angle). There is, however, a large part of the society who hasnt been helped yet. They still continue to live in poverty and they are not happy about it. While I have no mandate to speak on anyones, especially not on their behalf, Id say that they feel failed by the government. 

As sad as this is, I am not sure what kind of miracle workers would have sorted the whole post-apartheid mess which obviously wasnt created by them, but the main thing is that for many, things havent improved despite of the great hopes. Im not saying government has been perfect, far from it, but fourteen years isnt a long time in any countrys history.
The new South Africa has since its beginning had the burden of high expectations. From oppression everyone thought that itd be possible to transform into the most tolerant country in the world in few years and all this of course peacefully. That the people who the racist regime denied to have a proper education would just as if by magic become educated and equality would fall in place. I cant help but think that this was mainly expected by the so called western world because racism is anyway a sore topic which wed rather not discuss and the international community and the pan-European world was relieved that we didnt have to be embarrassed by apartheid any further. South African peaceful transition was also, it seems, seen as a forgiveness for all of the western corporations and governments who supported apartheid and benefited from it. No one ever took responsibility and whole mess was left for the ANC to deal with. Nothing would be more naïve than to think that problems on this scale disappear like that, and its pointless to say that but Mandela said so, because it was his job to talk about the Rainbow Nation and I doubt that anyone would have done his job better. The task of the government here isnt very easy; I am certainly not jealous.

So the problem is poverty and the frustration over the government because of it. And extreme problems create extreme reactions and this is what happened here. Of course its not just poverty but many things that played their part, but arguably, all the other problems will ease a lot when poverty is eradicated as much as it can be. 

I can only talk about countries where I have lived like Finland, Denmark, UK and Ireland, and no doubt in all of these some of the ones worse off blame the foreigners for their shorter end of the stick. I am not even sure why it happens like that, but it does. They use derogatory names, smaller scale violent attacks and so on. And in South Africa its no different except that the situation is more extreme and the reaction is more extreme as well. The trouble makers are in all of these places a minority of people and indeed in South Africa the vast majority of the country has raised up to protest against the situation. The public discourse has been impressive and listening to radios phone-in shows I can only wish that other countries could reach the same level of taking responsibility and talking about the problem openly. I wish that white South Africans would have had a similar process after the apartheid and more importantly they should have had one during it. 

The reason why I and the other people coming from the more expensive countries arent targeted is because we generally dont live where the poverty is worst. This is also part of why I feel that the xenophobia as a term isnt really explaining the situation and also supports the idea of what is the root of the problem. I dont live in the most exclusive area, but I do live centrally and I doubt anyone in my building would have any problems with me or anyone including any of the security guards and residents who come from all over Africa like in so many places here.

So in my opinion South Africa is not more xenophobic country than any other. There’s a problem with it, but it isn’t a bigger one than say in my home country Finland. South Africa is probably the most self-critical country with the most cynical media, but not the most xenophobic. It also is the only country where I have lived that has actually, even if just because they had to, taken the issue of xenophobia seriously. It’s a young democracy and while I am not its citizen (although I am a resident) I am proud to be here. I don’t wish to support the notion of us against them especially since the media cannot get enough of it. I am sad by what has happened here and once more I want to emphasise that I am not undermining anyone’s suffering, but I don’t think that it can be credited on hate but frustration which turned into hateful actions. While the government doesn’t talk about it, I’m sure they understand it and the people (or should I say the person) who enjoy the support of the people start showing some leadership and not just hiding behind the lines ready to take over when problem has become much bigger.