29 May 2009

An Open Letter to South Africa.

Let me, once again, start with a disclaimer: I love South Africa. I wish to see this country and all of its people prospering in peace. A bit utopian and extremely idealistic, I know, but that is what I want.

In the field of medical science the illness must be diagnosed before it gets treated. Without the diagnosis one cannot know what even needs to be addressed and with what kinds of medicines. You cannot cure a cancer with a painkiller. I doubt no one even wanted to try it. For some reason, however, the same logic doesn’t get applied with the societal problems. I guess it is largely due to the broad spectrum of various diagnosis that everyone offer; that’s the democracy, but when there is a distinct lack of willingness to openly debate something that is so incredibly obvious, it makes you wonder. I am talking about the R-word. The most unkind, uncomfortable topic that in its awkwardness scare most people away. Even for me, it took two paragraphs before I could say it: Racism.

We all know that South African past is characterised by institutional and consistent racial discrimination. It started hundreds of years ago, but somehow, the expectation is that it ended in the early nineties when Mandela was released. Or latest, few years later when he became the first democratically elected President. The problem, of course, is that how could that end racism, which really is a mindset, a world view and a set of values that impact the society on its various levels through imbalanced economical power struggles, when imprisoning him wasn’t what started it. It didn’t even start the apartheid. All apartheid was racism but not all the racism is apartheid. Therefore doing away with a system, or even just a word itself, doesn’t address the mindsets of the people and their cultural practices. Racism is something that is a deep-rooted illness of South Africa (amongst many countries) and cannot be treated before we really know what it is about.

Of course, the ones who have been subjected to racism know what it is. They’ve had to deal with it ever since they were born, but do we white people in South Africa and beyond have any idea what we are talking about here? I suspect that by and large the answer is no, and that is the problem. There is no diagnosis so we don’t know what to treat. Other problem, of course is that there is not an immediate need to address something that doesn’t hinder your life, and a general attitude which appears to suggest that racism is purely a problem of the receiving end. But racism isn’t just name calling and most of all, the main problem is not your eugeneterrablances, who openly hate, but the closet racist. The ones who basically have no idea how racist they are, because that is how they have been for generations. It’s normalised and a standard practice; a kind of comfort zone.

I am not here to tell how things should be (another convenient sub-disclaimer there), but there must be more open debate and public discourse on what actually is happening on the streets, workplaces and homes of South Africa in this regard. Unfortunately the reality needs to be rubbed on people’s faces for it not to be ignored. Right now the doctor is recommending us some rest when in actual fact we have a life threatening illness. And much like with cancer, the treatment can first make you feel much more sick than you were, but you know that you are going forward, not backward. Racism is everyone’s problem and everyone needs to step up and start addressing it. It needs to be tackled where it happens. It’s not just theory but a practice.

I applaud people like Charles Cilliers, who have realised this and started, what I can only imagine to be rather unpopular action in some circles. The debate must take place both internally within every community and also on a national level. We must rethink the cultures and traditions because the history is a cruel story of intolerance, and therefore useful mainly as a warning example in this regard. The true transformation is for everyone taking action and responsibility, and not waiting for the Government, or anyone else for that matter, to transform us. It is crucially important to acknowledge the history, but while saying sorry might be an appropriate start, this is not a question of apologising the past, but changing the future attitudes in real terms and not just in theory. A headache tablet is not going to cure this cancer.

27 May 2009

Family Reunion

Just posting a few photographs from the last weekend. My brother in law Kaya, who lives in the UK, was in Cape Town with us for a week and a half, and on Sunday we went to Kommetjie to take few photos. My wife and her siblings are very rarely all in the same place at the same time so we had to use the opportunity.

Some more fotos on my Flickr site.

24 May 2009

Wittness to Fitness

You know you are doing something you want if you wake up before 7 am on Sunday to do it. It really isn't typical for me to get up at that kind of time, and even less so, to do it because I am on my way to hiking. Yet that is exactly what I did today.

Recently I wrote about the promise of getting moderately fit for my birthday that is in August, and after that our friend Tanja invited me to join their Hiking Club or at least a hike this weekend. I thought that since it sounds like something I don't do, I should probably do it. It was great.

We started around 8 am from the parking area of Silver Mine national park area (or some such) in Noordhoek. The early part of the hike was varying degrees of climbing up in the cool and fresh morning weather on a small rocky path. The difference, I found, between jogging and hiking is that when you start running you initially feel like it is the easiest thing and you may as well go on and do a proper marathon there and then, and only about three to five minutes later you realise that you were wrong and feel like you are going to need hospitalisation. With hiking, however, it goes the other way around and after the hump, you feel like you could go on forever.

The views from up there were pretty amazing while strong winds were opening and closing the cloud curtains around us. After three hours we found ourselves back at the parking area. Only eleven o'clock on Sunday and I had already felt the sense of achievement. Nice one.

So I am still on my way to be moderately fit on my birthday. Let's see where this takes me. Might do this again. My brother in law suspected that I might get addicted to exercise. I doubt that though; I only get addicted to things like Twitter or checking my email every two minutes, but I am still determined to give this a fair and proper go.

Link: Hiking Club Facebook group (Cape Town area)

23 May 2009

New Identity Portraits for Inkokhelo.com

Few more Identity portraits I took for Inkokhelo.com. These were our first shoots in the Eastern Cape in Graaff-Reinett. More information is available at www.inkokhelo.com

In memory of a friend

I received sad news yesterday. My friend Shadrack Kgosane had passed away. Today I went to his memorial in Landsdowne in Cape Town. Based on the speeches given, both by their quantity and quality, it is easy to say that he was well liked. I certainly think he was cool.

I didn't really know him that well. A lot less, I assume, than most other attendees at the memorial. I lived as his house mate for some time in 2005 in Wynberg. I remember those times with fondness as it was also when I met my wife and in many ways was starting a new chapter in my life. I didn't talk at his memorial, but there is one anecdote that I wanted to share.

It was 11th of November 2005 and Sithengi Film Festival in Cape Town. A radio station I worked for had some tickets to a world premier of brand new South African film called Tsotsi. That film, of course, later on went and won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film. I asked Shadrack to join me. He was from Naledi and Sowetan through and trough. He enjoyed Kwaito music which this film was promised to have and I thought that it'd be cool to ask him to join me that evening.

Tsotsi starts with, in my opinion, a very strong scene where the main characters walk defiantly through the streets and on the background is Zola's Mdlewembe. As soon as the beat kicked in he started singing along... “Hey wena!”. I realised immediately that for me this was just a cool experience and for him maybe something much more. That night we danced the night away to all the top Kwaito artists of the time and even got to talk to Zola himself. Whenever I hear that song, Mdlewembe, I think of him. He was a cool guy and left a strong legacy to his colleagues who unanimously admitted that at the memorial. The time I knew him, I was very impressed. I might just put Zola on my headphones and just appreciate what I've got in my life.

20 May 2009

Reflection and a promise.

If happiness is a loaded gun, then this is mine.

Who did that song “Life is Life”? Of course, the statement in itself is truism, how could it not be, but then again, life is so many things. I am now on my last 100 days of my twenties. Soon enough I'll start the thirties and I am very excited about it. No crisis or anything like that. I think I've done okay and overcome as many obstacles as someone like me has to. As a white European man I am very privileged in this sense, but that's another topic.

Some statistics of my life. On my thirtieth birthday I have lived 10% of my life on the African continent, most of which in South Africa. I lived around 13% of my life thus far in UK, 3% in Ireland and just under 2% in Denmark. The rest, after deducting shorter traveling periods I was growing up in Finland. Of all these times I am happy even though at times it felt difficult. But one is a sum of all experiences so if I am happy with myself now, I wouldn't be who I am without, say, few lonely years in England.

What does one have to achieve in the first 30 years? Many people around me are around the same age so I have been exposed to some ideas. I really don't think that there is any set standard, and I can only talk for myself, without comparing myself to anyone or anything. There are few things that could always be a bit better, but I do have a wife and son and great family in the homeland. I have had a chance to live in a few countries and travel a few more, and work with some cool people and then just some other people. I have had a chance to have great education and my life has been saved by amazing health care which I am so happy about. I've survived cancer and done few things that were even harder, but it's all good. I've had a chance to enjoy some brilliant music and great cinema. I have had access to read and even own some books that has inspired me and made me more than I was before reading them. I am a very fortunate man and I am very grateful for that. Life has been kind to me. It feels good to be where and how I am now, I am happy about the experiences that took me here and made me... well, me, and on top of that, I am excited about the future. To see my son grow and soon probably start talking, three languages mind you, and learn more with him and with my wife.

So yeah, it's been established that I am feeling content. There are few goals for me for this last 100 days. I wanted to write one of them down so I cannot cheat myself away from it. I am going to get moderately fit for my birthday. I say moderately, because I am hardly a person who has stuck to his fitness decisions previously, and also, doing all the family related things, it's not always so easy to have time and energy for extra-curricular activities. But I am going to start with some basic push ups and such and then see where my ambition takes me. So definitely only moderately fit. It's always good to under-promise and over-deliver, and even if you don't over-deliver, it just looks like you have reached your goal.

There won't be any before and after photos on my birthday, but I might just keep the blog updated about how it's going. Just to keep myself in check.

5 May 2009

Just let me be, Please.

I am not trying to offend anyone here. Why do I need a disclaimer every time I am about to say anything I think or feel about religion? Of course, I really don't want to offend anyone since I am not very confrontational person, but in actual fact, should you feel at all offended by what I think, then you really need to gain some confidence into your belief system.

I do have my opinions on organised religion and other social aspects of faith. They are not very supportive towards the cause itself, but I am not really interested in writing about them. If that is what suits you, then knock yourself out. And that, actually, is exactly what I wanted to write on. You must do exactly what you must in the name of your personal faith as long as the emphasis is on the personal.

Based on this idea I really mainly have one problem with Christianity; Matthew 28:19-20. That is the bit that tells the good Christians to go and bother everyone else with their thoughts on heaven and hell and everlasting life. Without that bit all the other bits would be just ideas on use it don't use it basis, and it would be easy to never hear much about them if you so chose, but because there seems to be somewhat strong emphasis on converting everyone to see things in a same way as they do, the Christians don't give up on us non-believers. In my experience the most arrogant aspect of this particular religion is that its followers assume that my lack of religion or even personal faith in any God-like concept is due to not knowing enough about it. And I am not talking about Easter Anglicans or Christmas Catholics, but the ones who actually believe in what they say they believe in. Thanks very much, my knowledge on religion, its history and dogma is just fine and maybe just because of that I find it impossible to relate to. I mean think of all the atrocities that can be attributed to various types of organised religions. It's gang mentality all over.

For many years I didn't have to address the topic of my religious views. It was fine, no one asked and no one probably even really cared. In South Africa, however, these matters are taken very seriously and the reason I am writing now is because earlier today there was some lady shouting loudly about her religious values on our living room couch (some relative of relative), and I thought that it was a bit much. Since this is my home and no one here subscribes to any major religion. And while I don't share her values and in all honesty I was rather annoyed by them, they were not my problem, but the fact that they had to be broadcasted on my time. Why would they even concern me anyway? What is this obsession of having to make sure that everyone thinks like they do? None of my Moslem friends do that. That's not to say that I believe any more to their religion, but what I like about it, or maybe it's just my Moslem friends, is that what is something beautiful, like a personal faith can be, isn't being made my problem. I stand against converting and going around trying to babtise the world. It really is annoying and quite arrogant.

My Christian friend (this is not a token Christian friend like every girl's gay friend or so, just a person who subscribes to this religion) once told me that Richard Dawkins' book God Delusion needs to be hidden from the Christians. He felt very threatened by it and it made me wonder that is there still some underlying lack of confidence amongst Christians to their faith. I mean science suggest that evolution has more to it that creationism; even the Pope agrees now, world is not flat and Adam and Eve might not have been how it all started. So considering all those times the church was seemingly wrong, I guess it starts to be difficult to prove without evidence that anything of bible should be accurate. I mean it could be, but it doesn't seem likely to me. But maybe there's an element of if I say it enough times, it'll become the truth. Like Weapons of Mass destruction, although that might be a bad example.

So if I could be a God for a day, I'd give Christians confidence to their cause and I'd erase that bit from the bible, where it says “...go around judging people and try to force them to start thinking like you do; be offended by other opinions and approach strangers on the streets with Jesus stuff”. I am not sure if my quote is absolutely word by word, but that's more or less how whatever is said there seems to be interpreted.