Category Archives: A new year

2015 – halfway mark

Home Help or Hindrance

I read an account in our local paper a while back of a woman who had been robbed by the person she employed as domestic helper. The help had made off with thousands of emalangeni worth of jewellery, and I have no doubt, a lot more that the employer will discover over the months to come. The article talked of the abuse that is meted out by these helpers as they lie, cheat and steal from those who employ them.

I wonder why this is? What makes this particular strata of society feel it is their right to help themselves to whatever they fancy in the homes they are paid to clean and take care of?

My first bad experience of this was after the death of my mother. As an only child whose father died when I was nine, and was now a relatively young twenty one, the trauma of losing my only parent was huge. When the funeral and various formalities were over, I turned my attention to the home we had lived in for the past however many years. The house belonged to the Swaziland Government and I had a limited time before I needed to vacate it.

I started in my Mother’s bedroom, because that was the most painful, and slowly moved through the rest of the house. All went relatively well, until I opened the linen cupboard. What had once housed been shelves brimming over with table cloths, matching napkins, sheets, pillowcases was now a cupboard with bare shelves.

I called to the woman who had shared most of my life with me.

“Where are all the table clothes, the napkins, all the things that were here?”

She shook her head. No idea what I was talking about. There had never been anything in that cupboard, all my imagination. It got worse. When I got to the dining room plates of all description, together with most of the cutlery, was gone. She’d moved fast.

What hurt was not so much the value of the items taken, although there obviously was a cost involved: silver forks and spoons with the Warburton and Leary family crests might have some commercial value but that was not what mattered right then. It was not only the loss of that tenuous link to my past, but the feeling of betrayal, that trust that was shattered. Items that I could have held as I remembered precious moments, gentle words spoken beneath my father’s piercing blue eyes, my Mum’s green eyes flashing merrily as we laughed at some piece of fun – that aura of comfort so necessary in a world suddenly lonely.

That was the first time, sadly not the last. It is a way of life, the sudden discovery that something is missing. You learn to accept that it is going to happen, your only decision is how much you allow to disappear before you act and diplomatically remove the offender. It isn’t always stealing. Sometimes it is simply carelessness and glasses, cups, even furniture is broken. Responsibility for repairing or replacing these items is eschewed with a shrug of the shoulders.

I have been pondering all this for a while, trying to decide whether employing someone to assist me with housework is a help or a hindrance, how much more damage and loss can I afford. As always, God has a happy knack of showing up with a reasoning argument just before I descend into active dislike and resentment.

Our Ladies’ Bible Study started up last week after the Christmas break, with a study on the book of the prophet Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. All my complaints and mutterings seemed to be duplicated in the first chapter! God is talking about the behaviour and attitude of the children of Israel, who had come to such a parting of the ways between themselves that they were now two kingdoms, quite apart from deserting God, and insulting Him by consorting with other gods, and deliberately flouting every one of His injunctions!

To demonstrate His point, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. Thereafter follows a tale of love and despair, of faithlessness and forgiveness, the story of a God, tried to the utmost by the actions of His chosen people, yet determined to claim them as His own, to bless them and honour them as His adored creation.

I think I have a small glimmer of how He feels, because I have treated Him in much the same way as domestic assistants down the years have treated me. In spite of all my wrongdoing, He still proclaims in ringing tones:

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,

And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;

Then I will say to those who were not My people,

‘You are My people!’

And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’

Hosea 2:23

There are many gems throughout this book:

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,

And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’

Hosea 6:6

Again:

‘My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge’ Hosea 4:6

– we presume to judge God, to insist He should act as we would have Him act, and when He doesn’t we thump our chests and say ‘See, what kind of God is He?’

As in all things, we have a choice. What I do about my domestic situation is in my hands, I have the authority to decide how much ‘abuse’ I am prepared to take, if any at all. There will be a cost, and again I get to decide how much I am prepared to give.

Does our Father not get the same right? To decide how much He will take from us, give us warning when we go too far. The difference is God’s love is so much greater than mine, and if He can forgive me all that I get up to, how do I deny forgiveness to others?

 

Clumsy, Thy Name is Glenda!

It all started before Christmas. I was on my way home from Nelspruit when I did something really stupid.

On a previous trip, during winter, I had caught glimpse of a gulley that looked as if it was on fire. It was aloes, in full bloom, clinging precariously, victorious in their ability to hold themselves fast in the rock clefts. There is nowhere to stop easily at that point, so I had to imprint the picture on my mind because I knew I wanted to paint it.

A few months later, after playing with the picture in my mind, I decided I needed to take a picture of the spot. I had to go to Nelspruit, so I knew I would have my chance. I have learnt over the years that even the simplest of cameras takes a pretty good snapshot from a moving vehicle. As I turned onto the stretch of road leading to my ‘Flaming Kloof’ there was a line of fairly slow moving vehicles in front of me. Aha! My chance!

I would put my swanky new cell to the test. A little problem – my driving glasses reduce everything within the car to a mild blur, most particularly anything on the screen of a mobile. While I was squinting, trying to figure out where the camera icon was, something felt a little off. I looked up to find myself trundling merrily off-road, down a pretty steep hill straight towards a small dam!

A quick manoeuvre brought me around. But. There was brick edging to the road at that point, and I crunched over it with a sickening thud, followed immediately by a screeching scrape. At the point where I steered back onto the road was a small but deadly rock! It had completely massacred my front passenger wheel. Yes, wheel. The tyre was shredded, the wheel buckled, the hub cap protruding at an odd angle.

Shaking like a leaf, I called the friend with whom I had spent the night. Her husband immediately made a plan to rescue me, until reason prevailed and I told him to wait a while, surely some intrepid soul would stop to assist. A minibus trundled by, hooted in greeting. Didn’t stop. The ubiquitous white Fortuna, much loved by most of the population in this part of the world, slowed, took one look at me, and drove off.

Pray! That small still voice penetrated my panic. I did. Within minutes a spiffy white Audi appeared. I tentatively put out my hand to flag it down. Relief allowed some moisture back into my mouth as It pulled over. The man behind the wheel assured me he had been in the tyre business for decades and proceeded to change the wheel for me.

The first quote I got put the damage far beyond what I had in my budget for “whatevers” – oh the cost of folly! I made it through Christmas, determinedly ignoring the fact that I was driving around with no spare tyre.

As we do every year, I determined that 2017 is going to be a good year. I lost my way in 2016, largely due to taking on the chair of our local equestrian federation. Writing schedules went out the window, the days became substantially shorter, a new system, accepted by some, agreed to begrudgingly by others, took huge mental effort to understand, and resolving age-old differences tested my conciliatory skills to the nth degree. I was tired, irritable, desperate to get my writing back on track, and 2017, that magical number for whatever reason, was going to do it for me.

Until I came home from work, opened the car door to get out, realised the windows were open, turned the key in the ignition to close them, got out and went to talk to the gardener. The next morning keys stubbornly missing, I decided to look in the car. I saw them in the ignition through the window, and was turning away when a mournful beep, beep, beep, made me open the door. I hadn’t only left them in the ignition, but left the ignition turned on.

A kindly neighbour, who agreed to let his watch of the cricket be interrupted, got me jump-started, but an annoying yellow light, reflecting the letters ABS persisted in mocking me.

Things happened in quick sequence hereafter. A phone call asking me for a reference for a domestic helper who had once worked for me. Except it wasn’t once, she was currently working for me. How dumb is that? Giving my name as reference when you haven’t given notice? I now had to lock my poor Lexie into the house when I had to shop, or work, or whatever.

My life took a swift turn to the stressed. Washing I can handle, vacuuming I can manage, but ironing and mopping floors are a challenge as yet unattained. Then there is Lexie. With none to keep an eye on him he has refined his skills as a worthy follower of Houdini to a fine craft. He has my cat as teacher, so windows are to be jumped through, the gate scaled, and furniture is there to be chewed when boredom threatens.

Trying to make him feel better after one day of long incarceration in the kitchen, I bought him a new ball and a hide bone. He immediately buried the bone with great ceremony and secret ritual. When he was done he returned, and eyed the ball with an expectant glitter in his eyes. I went to cut off the label, and get rid of plastic bags and life continued.

Until two days later when I needed my spare house keys. I searched, and searched. I went around the garden thinking Lexie may have made off with them. at last I decided I must have thrown them away with the label of the ball. The packet with the hide bone had two in it – I only gave him one – the other is also missing. Conundrum: Lexie or the refuse bag?

It was refuse collection day, so I decided to go and check through the bag I had deposited there a couple of hours earlier. I knew exactly where it was, to the side of the pile. It would be messy but quick. So I thought.

But no. Life in this cycle is not that simple. In this country we have people, men mostly, who eschewing the psychiatric facilities live on the streets, where they laugh and sing and dance to whatever beat they alone can hear. Our resident chap was having a whale of a time going through all our stinking bags, and mine was no longer where I placed it. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to recognise it, confident I had tied mine differently to those I was looking at.

I mean, really?!

By the time I had opened the third one, been covered in flies and sickened with stench, I gave up. My decision was hastened by one of my neighbours driving past and waving cheerfully. Then the farm manager rode past on his bicycle.

“Afternoon, Madam,” without a change of expression.

I took stock. Here I was, with the village imbecile, looking through refuse bags in full view of all the world on a Tuesday afternoon.

Is 2017 going to be a better year? With a start like this, it has to be!

 

 

When there is no cake

I try and walk most mornings, weather and lungs permitting.

A few months back, much against my better judgement, I allowed myself to be talked into taking a young puppy, who came with the claim of being a purebred Jack Russell. Well, judge for yourself! But he is a character, very enthusiastic about many things, and ‘walkies’ is high on the priority list. Each morning he watches me like a hawk, and at the first sign of the possibility of a wander, his tail begins a silent tattoo, and he inches closer and closer to the gate in expectation. But should I show no sign of compliance, his demeanour crumbles piteously, hurt eyes dart towards me from under still expectant eyelashes, until at last with a sigh he closes them to escape the horror of another day within the confines of the yard. Such a guilt monger as you have never met!

img_2840
My faithful Lex, whose nagging ensures I exercise regularly

 

It was on one of these perambulations that I was stopped by a young man, gently insistent when I tried to walk on past him after the usual greeting.

“Please look at this,” he pleaded, pulling documents out of an ubiquitous brown envelope.

It was his school report, together with the offer of a place for Form 1 at a local high school. His finger trembled over a paragraph towards the bottom of the page. I saw the amount in, typed in bold. E4990. An impossible amount for me, and for many of us, but totally out of reach for some 65% of the local population. He had passed Form 7, the last grade of junior school with a second class pass, making him deserving of further education in my book, and obviously in that of the school to which he had applied.

That was me netted. How do you tell a kid who wants to better himself that there isn’t a hope of him finding that sort of money, you don’t have it and the chances of your convincing anyone to help are slim to non-existent.

It’s the same story each January. Parents and children alike, desperate for that chance of a better life, unable to find the wherewithal, take to the streets in the hope that they will find some good Samaritan willing to part with some ‘bucks’. For some, employers will take pity and lend them the money – they spend the rest of the year paying it back.

Anyway, I tried, very aware that it was not only the preposterously high school fees that I was looking for. School uniforms are not cheap, although at some stage in our independent history there was a suggestion the same uniform be adopted throughout the country to lessen the cost. Then there are books, endless school building funds, whatever. I knew the E5k would end up closer to E8k. and if we didn’t find all of this, by the end of January he would be sent home from school until such time as he could make payment in full.

Every day thereafter Siboniso was at my gate, his eyes pleading, his shoulders desperate. After a week, I knew I had to be honest with him.

“Siboniso, you need to accept that this is not going to happen.” His shoulders slumped. “But I have an idea. Distance learning. You can get some part time work, and study part time.”

“How?”

“Emlalatini.”

So the next day saw us off to Ezulwini, that sometimes lives up to its name and at others seems to represent the other place! (Ezulwini means ‘heaven’ in siSwati)

Emlalatini was strangely quiet, but the principal was in and after a short wait we were invited into his office. I told him our story, he looked at the paper work, and gave the nod for Siboniso to register. The delight on the young man’s face was a picture to behold. The excitement and exuberance that accompanied me home was fabulous.

And that was the last I saw of him. I found him work. He was due to report that Saturday to find out the details. I kept checking my gate, the road. No show. We were supposed to register last week. No sign of him.

Now, he did lie to me, told me he was an orphan, that neighbours took care of him. I gave him food one day because he was so hungry. I then discovered he had both parents, his father was employed, but that is no guarantee that he would be able to shell out what amounts to a large fortune to most of the people of this land of eSwatini to ensure his oldest son’s education.

Was it a scam? If so, to what end? Did he think I would hand over E5000 crisp brown or green notes, without making sure they went where they were intended? Was it a test of some sort? The bible says we will be tested by men and angels?

Whatever. The issue represented in this tale is what really concerns me. Why have we in Africa made it so difficult for our people to be educated? In this country the increase from primary school fees to secondary is huge. After much fuss, a programme was rolled out to offer free primary schooling, which used to be around E500 a year, but to jump from there to approximately E8000 a year, in a country where the average worker earns less than E2000 a month is disproportionate.

The end result is a large portion of population, barely educated, trying to eek a living out of the soil, handicrafts, or their wits. Surely we would all be better off with well-equipped, enquiring minds, bringing new inventions and businesses and ideas to stimulate our sagging economy? The same goes for most of Africa.

In neighbouring South Africa the #Feesmustfall campaign was born of a desperate need by youngsters who believe they deserve to be equipped to succeed at their chosen careers, to have the same opportunities as many children they see daily in television programmes and the internet from around the world.

Is there a deliberate, covert policy to keep the masses uneducated? Do the minority that constitute the leadership fear that if these young minds are trained to think, they may ask too many questions that cut close to the bone? Why is it that only the well-off, the well-connected can educate their children, and so perpetuate a system that is not beneficial to the vast majority.

I fear that our laxity in addressing this issue will lead to our downfall. There is a tale told of a conversation in the French court at the onset of the revolution that changed the ways of governance in the European world. The queen, Marie Antoinette, asked why the masses were so unhappy, so restless. When she was told that it was because they were hungry, her replay was: “Tell them to eat cake!” Her words were called back to her as she knelt in front of those hungry people, put her head on a block, and waited for the blade to fall that would sever it from the rest of her body.

I am a great proponent of the lessons of history and I think we in Africa would do well to become conversant with them, before we, too, lose our heads for living in lavish excess while our people die hungry and our children are denied their right to a better future, one that comes from being adequately educated and equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern world.

 

 

 

 

 

Poisonous Pens

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

 

So Who is the Real Loser?

It’s four and a half hours since I awoke to a silent house, no hum of fridges, or water pumps, or daylight switches humming their warning that they are about to go off.

I don’t mind too much. I’m broke so every minute that my meter is blank, I think of all the units I am saving and smile. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but I have a gas ring so I can have a cup of tea, even make a meal. I have candles and rechargeable lights, all the mod cons needed to deal with outages such as these over the years. Others have generators for emergencies.

I remember driving home from work one Sunday afternoon many years ago in the foulest of weather: wind, driving rain, trees bending and breaking – scary. It was the onset of Cyclone Domoina, or ‘Zamcolo’ as it is known here. In front of me was a truck easily identified as belonging to the Swaziland Electricity Board as it was known then. As fast as poles crashed down, they were putting them up, an amazing effort in the face of huge adversity, and well worthy of great reward.

Before Christmas, with scant warning, we were told the staff of SEC were going to begin a sit-in, or go-slow or some such action because they had not received their annual bonuses. That doesn’t worry me too much either. Power outages in my area are endemic, sometimes as many as seven times in a day the power goes off. At times it comes straight back, or we can wait an hour or longer. We seldom have twenty four consecutive hours of uninterrupted power. All of which contribute to a gradual degradation of motors, and we then have the expense of replacing fridges, modems, water pumps, irrigation systems, the list is endless.

A number of times we have been out for ten or more hours at a stretch. We are told the technicians have gone home, or they are waiting for the storm to pass, or we don’t get any explanation at all. That is always assuming we can actually get someone to answer at the call centre. I doggedly left the phone ringing for forty minutes once. Twice I have received follow up calls after reporting the lack of power, once three days later, the other time a day later. I mean, please, why waste money on the phone call?

Today we were told that the technicians now only start work at 8am, which happened to be some three hours after our power failed. It is heading for 10 am, so over five hours I’ve saved a goodly number of units, far less than SEC has lost! All of which must be translated into revenue, or loss of earnings for the Company.

So who is really the loser in a situation like this? As I see it, the degenerating service offered by the Swaziland Electricity Company is causing more people to look to alternative forms of power. Solar is no longer as expensive as it was, companies like Guba show how waste can be converted to gas, wind is another option. I have friends who have converted almost completely to solar, and take very little from SEC. Another has made numerous alterations to their home and will soon not only be off the grid, but in a position to sell power back to SEC.

I certainly, if I am ever in the happy place of owning my own house, will look at alternate energy sources. I love the idea of self-sufficiency, not being dependant on someone unwilling to get out of bed to go to work on a rainy morning. But as more people look at these options, the workers of SEC may find that not only do they not receive any bonuses, but they may not have jobs to go to either.

 

Goodbye 2016! Goodbye bigotry?

Goodbye 2016

I was watching a review of 2016 on eNCA that outlined instances of racism that made headline news in South Africa during 2016. This question of colour has to be one of the most invidious ills of this era, a time when it should be so far in remission as to be non-existent. But the opposite is true, not only in Africa but globally.

Growing up here in Swaziland I was pretty well protected from the day to day unfairness of the apartheid system. My mother would mutter darkly about the “Nat Government”, the word communist was bandied about by other adults, we had to watch what we did and said when we crossed to border into South Africa. I had no idea what they were talking about, and I only gradually awoke to the realities of the political system that dominated all our lives, even those of us resident in so-called independent territories or protectorates when I reached early adulthood.

My first brush came at the age of 17. I was working for Khosi Noge who had started a factory under the newly formed SEDCO called kuKhanya kwemaSwati, making dresses out of Java print and tishweshwe. She had to go to Johannesburg to buy supplies, and wanted me to go with her – a white in the party would carry more more weight, even a gangly uninformed teenager. That part I only figured out much later. Khosi told me that they would book me into a hotel in Germiston, while the rest of the group would stay with her brother in Katlehong, the perennial satellite township associated with towns in South Africa.

I agreed nervously when still in Swaziland. But I had been in boarding school in Pretoria for 6 years and I knew that Germiston was a hotbed of rapists, murderers and thugs. The closer we got the more I felt fingers of fear clutch at my innards at the thought of being alone in some dimly lit hotel in this town of lurid iniquity. As we reached the outskirts, Khosi gave instructions to start looking for a place. That was it.

“Khosi, you are not leaving me alone in a hotel in Germiston. I’m coming with you.”

“You can’t come with us,”

“I’m coming with you. I’m not staying here on my own.”

Silence. Muttered conversation.

“You are not allowed in the townships.”

“Why not?”

“Only black people stay in the townships.”

“I don’t care. I’m a Swazi. I’m staying with you. You are not leaving me here alone.”

It was an interesting week, starting with having to hide on the floor between the back seats of the Toyota Hi-Ace, covered with blankets, as we entered Katlehong. I had to stay hidden during daylight hours, emerging only after dark, protected by a throng of youths who constantly made sure the coast was clear, as I went to call home from the callbox. Our last night there one of the children had a birthday, and Khosi’s brother had organised a movie which was shown against the wall of the garage. It seemed most of Katlehong turned out to watch. One old lady came up to me, touched me, then patted my chest, tears streaming down her face.

“I never believed I would see a white person here with us. I pray God I live to see the day when this happens all the time.”

Back in Swaziland my mother was having many nervous breakdowns, convinced each time the phone rang it would be someone to tell her I had been arrested under some arcane law. Now I know I must seem incredibly thick, but I still did not get it. I lived here, among Swazis. My mother was a civil servant and we had people of all races and cultures walking into our house, and had done since I could remember. My father had broken tradition way back in the 1950’s by insisting a number of clerks in his office be allowed to join the Piggs Peak Country Club because they were good tennis players. My neighbours were black, the nurses who took care of me when I was desperately ill in hospital were black, what was the big deal?

At the end of that year I went to Johannesburg to work and study speech and drama at evening school. I struggled at times, mainly because I didn’t remember to look at the signs. I would stand at the wrong bus stops, enter the incorrect section of the Post Office, sit on wrong park benches. Sometimes people would correct me gently, other times they looked at me with deep resentment, sometimes they shouted.

I still found it hard to understand the arguments that waxed around me, so I had no firm opinion, and the propaganda machine was efficient enough to ensure that no white person of my age really knew what was going on. It was only when I came back to Swaziland and began to read books banned across the border that the penny began to drop. I started with Robert Ruark’s “Uhuru”. That icon of the BBC World Service, Mick Delap sent me Donald Wood’s “Biko”, where for the first time I got to read a transcript of Mandela’s speech at the Rivonia trial and realised the extent of the misinformation disseminated by the “Nat” government. For the first time in my life I felt uncomfortable in my white skin. It worried me. I had many conversations with the late Tars Makama, who would seek to reassure me, but he couldn’t. When the crunch came, as I believed it had to, no one would have time to ask if I was for or against the black man. My skin would be my downfall.

That was then, the seventies, which soon were followed by the turbulence of the eighties. During those decades I came to terms with who I am, and decided to embrace my whiteness, not allow anyone to make me ashamed of who my God created me to be. At long last the nineties arrived and sanity seemed to prevail: black and white stood side by side for hours in election queues, the prophets of doom and naysayers were silenced as a rainbow nation was birthed. No one was naïve enough to believe the transition would be smooth sailing – there was a lot of history to overcome – but there was definitely a pride that South Africans across the colour spectrum had achieved what many other nations had not: a peaceful transition from oppression to freedom. The future beckoned, hope burned powerfully as the constitution was drawn up, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission got underway, the will to make South Africa strong and united was incontrovertible.

So where did it all go wrong? Or has it gone wrong? Are the slurs really slurs, or have we become over sensitive? If so, why? Let’s face it, many expectations have not been met, poverty persists, the divide between rich and poor seems to widen inexorably, the have’s seem secure in their wealthy arrogance while the have-nots dwindle into ever increasing despair. And through all the insecurity generated by uncaring politicians suspicion of anything that does not look like me creeps menacingly through our societies and explodes at some insignificant person’s thoughtless rant.

Many of us have been called names, mostly based on colour or gender, age too, any difference will do, and for the most part we ignore this, knowing the name-caller is reacting to some stress in much the same way as we ourselves have done on occasion. Every now and then I have to breathe deeply as a black brother or sister merrily trashes me in the vernacular, unaware that I understand what they are saying. But I have a choice. I can react, take it to heart and lash back. Or I can swallow it, and determine not to allow that speech to colour my attitude towards others. Not easy, but if we are grounded and sure of who we are, we can do it.

Prejudice is born of fear, and fear is the opposite of love. Scripture tells us that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). I hate that which I fear, and I fear that which I hate. It’s that simple. What is not so simply is figuring out what I fear, and why.

Back to the racism discussion. Every now and then, a racial slur hits a nerve. And on reflection, I think it needs to, in order to remind each one of us to watch our tongues, to search our hearts for attitudes that are not pleasing to God. Leviticus 19: vv11-17 describes very clearly how we are to deal with those around us, dealing honestly with all, considering other’s needs as much as our own, and by so doing honouring God.

My prayer for 2017 is for each one of us to experience that love that drives out fear, that soothes the torment of insecurity, and allows us to live in peace, respecting those around us. I pray, too, for our leaders, all through southern Africa, that they will respect the roles they have been given, to take care of their people, and deal fairly with all.

May the wounds of the past remain in the past, and may 2017 be the start of a new season, rich in blessing, in peace, in love.

 

Brave the Storm, or Surrender?

The hiss of the kettle coming to the boil on its nest of coals at precisely three o’clock was a welcome call to gather for tea and biscuits. Some had taken advantage of siesta time and slept, some relaxed on chairs on the lookout, some got to know each other better

“We are going to go the confluence,” Aron announced.

Happy sounds of assent greeted his pronouncement.

“I believe it really is an amazing sight,” Rozz said. “It would be such a shame to be here and not to see it.”

Tea drunk, anoraks and backpacks retrieved we headed for the game vehicle. There was some last minute activity in the small kitchen, as everyone organised drinks and snacks for the walk, and for the drive back camp.

Threatening clouds
Threatening clouds

We set off on what was now becoming a familiar track, heading east. As we gathered near the young Baobab, Aron looked anxiously heavenward. Clouds threatened, the light was not good.

“We will walk straight to the confluence this time, along the riverbed, and come back the same way.”

There was a delicious sense of excitement as we made our way down a steep path, and arrived on the riverbed. As we clambered onto a large outcrop rocks, a hippo rose up through a great swirl of water, took one indignant look at us, and fled, leaving a huge, white-crested wake. He stopped a short way ahead, and stood quivering in what could have been fury, or fear.

Last minute instructions from Aron, overlooking the Oliphant's river. The confluence is around the corner at the bask of the mountain on the right.
Last minute instructions from Aron, overlooking the Oliphant’s river. The confluence is around the corner at the bask of the mountain on the right.

Aron and Absolom were in a hurry, but still made sure that each of us managed to climb the steep steps of the rocks, and that we put our feet on safe footholds. The hippo was shaking his head and snorting, looking around for fellows to join him in his condemnation of this intrusion into his domain, when there was a familiar rumble, a flash and the rain began to fall.

“The rain is coming, and it is not going to stop,” Aron was concerned. “Are you happy to continue?”

His anxiety made me uneasy, but we really wanted to see the confluence. We decided to continue. Soon the rocks were black and glistening, the light worsened. I felt my foot slip. I am an asthmatic, and did not know how my lungs would hold out if we had to make a dash for it. The hippo gave another flick of his enormous head.

“I’m sorry, but I am really not keen to carry on,” I said.

Aron stopped immediately. “The rocks are going to get more slippery. And we will have to come back up there,” he pointed to a barely discernible path on the lower slope of the bank.

There was a moment’s silence as everyone thought over the odds.

“I am also not happy with a weapon in the wet, which may not fire.”

With that, and another look at the agitated hippo, and we all agreed that turning back was the better option.

“We’ll go for a drive instead,” Aron reassured.

“Will we try again?” someone asked.

Both guides shook their heads.

“It’s obvious we are not meant to go the confluence. Let us listen to the bush.”

Our Faithful chariot!
Our Faithful chariot!

Once back in the vehicle, snacks and drinks appeared as we settled down to enjoy a drive in a part of Kruger Park where we were the only people.

We came across a bull elephant, and watched enthralled as he manoeuvred a tree trunk out of the ground, and then debarked it, delicate moves from one so large. We saw a pearl spotted owlet, close, only a couple of metres away, nestled in the fork of a tree.

“Look at that giraffe, he thinks he is sheltering from the rain,” we all laughed at the animal whose head towered above the shrub he was sheltering behind.

Night came fast, and it was dark when we arrived back at the camp, delighted to see the cheery glow of the log fire, and with the aroma emanating from the kitchen where Shadrack was working his magic.

It was a good day in the bush. Not the one we had planned, but a good day nonetheless, it was the day the bush ordained.

Arrival at Bush Camp

The air in the safari vehicle tingled with a sense of expectation as we left Letaba and headed south. Conversation was a little muted to begin with as we tentatively explored our new companions, and wondered if we would merge well over the next couple of days.

Aron assured us he would not be stopping for minor sights, but if there was anything we particularly wanted to look at we should alert him. Our first experience of his proficiency as a guide came as we stopped on the low-level bridge across the Oliphant’s River, where both his and Absolom’s knowledge of birds became apparent.

James, who had told us he really wanted to see Ground Hornbill was delighted a little later when we came around a corner and there was a threesome of the handsome turkeys. After looking our fill, we turned off, onto one of those delicious looking roads with a “no entry” sign. I have always wanted to go on one of those. I sighed happily.

The antelope we saw seemed nervous, and after a quick look at us, all ran away. I wondered if it was because they seldom saw vehicles, or if it was a sign of fear inflicted by poachers. The temperature had gone from 36 degrees the previous day to the low twenties, and clouds were gathering. We stopped for a leg stretch and a log-gather, and had our first taste of walking freely in the bush.

The sun was dipping fast, and Aron showed us his artistic side as he stopped for us to record the sunset, far from the hue and cry of civilization.

Aron stopped for us to capture the sunset
Aron stopped for us to capture the sunset

Night fell fast, and just as the journey seemed interminable we came to a gate, guarded with skulls and horns. A quick indication of the location of the four huts, and toilets, and an injunction to meet when we were settled to hear about the “Politics of the Bush” had us scampering off smartly. By the time we had claimed our bags, checked out our rooms, a cheerful fire had been made, and our two guides were waiting for us. The excitement, and for some, terror, of a slender snake slithering across the boma floor alerted us to the need to look where we were going!

It was later identified as a reticulated centipede eater.

The ground rules were simple: no food in the rooms, keep the toilet seats down or deal with any thirsty squirrel that might have drowned in the bowl, how the gas geysers worked. Our morning call would be at 5 am, water would be provided in a basin outside our rooms, and we were not to leave our tilley lamps untended in the rooms. Dinner was served shortly thereafter.

The Swazi contingent were housed here, together with Beryl
The Swazi contingent were housed here, together with Beryl

Chef Shadrack did us proud, so with full tummies, and the thought of rising before dawn, most of us headed for bed.

 

Words, Wonderful Words!

Language can be such fun!
A few days ago I was left a copy of our local newspaper, and was reading the classifieds (the only pages worth reading) when I came across the following under a section entitled “Livestock and Poultry”:

3 saws and 1 boer +-55kg

I was delighted and hooted merrily. But it got me thinking about language, about communication, about words. After all, I’m supposed to be a writer and this is all a part of my craft. I realised that, certainly in this part of the world, it is all about what is familiar. I don’t know about you, but I tend to link strange words or ideas in order to remember them and I guess this is what has happened here: sows and boars are not familiar words, but everyone knows what a saw is, and boers? Well, in this part of the world we know all about them!

For those uninitiated, boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer, but in the apartheid years the word took on a different connotation, describing a race of people who were to be feared, and yes, hated. The boer was the nationalist, the hater of blacks, the representatives of the apartheid regime.

On the flip side, the word is also an acknowledgement of the root characteristic of the Afrikaner people, tough, hardy folk of the land. In the light of this, is a boar so different to a boer? Boer is a word that is familiar, and so it is easy to substitute it for boar.

Another gem much flaunted in this country is the word “temporal” which is consistently used instead of “temporary”. The latest one is a sign saying: “Beware! Temporal exit!” outside and enormous building site. I have visions of lines of tipper trucks heading into outer space through some eternal portal, and wonder if they are off to prepared the highway for the rest of us mortals who, for now at least, are earthbound.

Which brings me to my favourite sign of all:

I Love that Crocodiles can own Flatdogs!

It gives me such pleasure to know the crocodile has a flatdog!