Tuesday, March 27, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Behave

“Sometimes we are so steeped in what has been prescribed for us that we need to completely recreate ourselves. That takes guts. Standing against stereotypes sends you on a journey of learning and unlearning, which takes a long time” (Sephodi, 2017:29).

This quote from Malebo Sephodi’s Miss Behave best describes my life since 2013. A journey of self-discovery. A journey of unpacking who Tokiso is and what she is about. A journey of forgiveness. A journey of letting go. It hasn’t been an easy one. Hence reading Malebo’s book was so personal. It felt like she was talking about me as she walked us through her learnt experience as a black South African woman.

I went to the 2017 Abantu book festival in Soweto knowing that this would be one of the books I would walk away with. I thought that I would read it throughout my December break – but I found myself hooked to the book and done with it within two days. It was an emotional ride.

The chapter that spoke to me the most was Chapter 8, Beyond The Quotas. It led to me to tweet, “being a black woman in corporate SA is an extreme sport”. Unlike Malebo, I have never been blind to race and from my first job – I felt uncomfortable being the “token” Black. This meant, I was always on edge – always aware. Never surprised when I’d heard that a senior white male described me as “such a bitch” because I made him uncomfortable. Meanwhile – I am no Biko-lite, as the Twitter streets would describe it. I do not walk around with a Malcolm X quote at the tip of my tongue or start racially-fuelled debates in the work places. The reality is – sometimes when you are comfortable in your own (black) skin and do not go out of your way to ‘explain yourself’ – you will be called a “bitch” or whatever lovely description out there.

“When you disrupt the existing conditions and refuse to accept anything less than what you know you are worth, you start making those who oppress you so uncomfortable that they will try anything to discredit you,” (Sephodi, 2017: 125).

Yet similarly to Malebo you learn and unlearn. I once asked an MD of a company I worked for, “why are there so few black people here”. His response was that black people are expensive. Because we are in demand – we do not stay in jobs for long periods. He stated without blinking – “I’ve seen young black people leave us here for higher positions I know they are not adequately ready for”. This very same man had spent about 15 minutes trying to prove how not racist he was. The usual, “I’ve been trying to learn Zulu for the past ten years, I support my wife with her township out-reach programmes and I bought my maid a car”.

Anyway – that conversation was sparked by him thinking I would ease his concerns about what Economic Freedom Fighter’s Julius Malema had said about white people and the land issue – and ended with me asking what he had practically done to end racist thinking and behaviour amongst his peers. I asked if when he is having dinner with friends and someone makes racist remarks does he call them out; he promised to get back to me – he never did.

So, when Malebo writes about subtle discrimination – it reminded me of that conversation with that MD. The thinking that black people are not worthy of the positions they hold. I wanted to call and hug her and say, “You are not crazy, we are not crazy – it is there”. We are deemed unworthy. We do need PHDs and twenty years of experience to work the printer. We are never skilled enough.

This is not about fighting the system – our parents did that. It is about fighting a mind-set. I personally do not think that is possible. Black women will always be seen as – children by men and white women. It is a mind-set that they themselves need to unlearn. I remember saying to my mentor in the beginning of 2017 – I am tired of educating – let them teach themselves. Why must the oppressed also be the teacher and the change agent, whilst trying to make sense of this thing called life and make means end?

When do we, as black women, find that thing within us that makes our souls happy if we spend our days “educating” men of all races on how we must be treated and viewed and respected? “…being a Black woman is a nervous condition. So much is expected of you and those who expect it can’t see the strain” (Sephodi, 2017:147).

Every day – without fail black women on Twitter share their internalised struggles, it could be from family, partners or even work. Every day in those discussion there seems to be that narrative of “save you honey, because no one will”. One of my favourite black women shared on Facebook that she suffered from the imposter syndrome all her life – she just celebrated her 49th birthday. Some of my peers speak about this too. There is so much work we need to do with for ourselves – within ourselves. We work so hard daily, we break ceilings, we speak up against all forms of discrimination, we walk away from spaces that no longer serve our goals – but our souls gather dust. 

So I agree with Malebo when she asserts, “we must actively participate in our own well-being. This means rejecting all notions that keep us afraid of being our true selves”.
This is where my heart is right now. Malebo’s book was necessary for my well-being. Recreating Tokiso has been a tough journey – but knowing that I am not alone on this journey or crazy was very important.

Friday, May 19, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Writing What We Like – A New Generation Speaks!

Such a refreshing read! There is something special about reading a well thought out piece that you relate to and that speaks about a context that is in your time. I am not throwing shade at thoughts penned before I was even an idea – I am just excited that my generation of peers are writing about our struggles. The scary thing about reading Writing What We Like, edited by Yolisa Qunta, is that most of the struggles feel like the continuation of the struggles our parents faced. Didn’t my mom and her peers fight the system so we would be living better lives?

One would argue that we are living better lives but this would depend on which side of the class fence you sit. The race issues in South Africa are far from over. Although the topic is dealt with in different manners – these essays highlight the different stories of the black struggle. What Qunta has managed to do with this book is eliminate the single story regarding black struggle. Advertising agencies would be doing themselves a huge favour in sharing this book amongst staff.

This is a six-chapter book with different authors sharing their views on race, sex, education, privilege, black people defining themselves and much more. Some got me straight up laughing, like Loyiso Gola’s I digress, some got me thinking like Ilham Rawoot’s Cape Town’s Pretend Partnership and I wished Tshegofatso Senne’s Confessions of a Sub was much longer – I was curious.

Reading the now late Fezisa Mdibi’s “If Only They Could Stop Fucking” just made me sad because I miss her madly. God took one of our best before she could give us more of her writing to keep.

That is another thing I loved about this book, most if not all, of the authors have a strong social media presence. Writing What We Like was a platform beyond the interwebs to understand, without interruption, what the backstory is regarding a specific topic, should you be following them on social media, that each author holds close to their heart and tends to tweet endlessly about.

To read Senne’s thought piece on BDSM without the interruptions of someone tweeting their opinion on it was fascinating. She’s tweeted about the topic and her experience for a long time but the noise that keeps Twitter alive sometimes interrupts the essence of her stories.

I hope this is the first edition of Writing What We Like, we need to read more of these kinds of essays, preserve these voices in books and not rely only on the interwebs to remember the magic of our time.

So much has already happened since it came out in 2016. Soon after the birth of #RhodesMustFall we saw the so-called born-frees fighting nationally for #FeesMustFall. There’s been the continued rise of EFF, high school children standing up against racist rules at school, #MenAreTrash, #ZumaMustFall and the countries downgrade to junk status. Like the Twitter streets would day “Issa Mess”!

I honestly think that everybody should get their hands on this book. It is a perceptive compilation of short easy to read essays that hit the mark. Young South African’s are speaking out, writing, shouting and re-defining what it means to be a child of Azania post-1994. I love this!

I will leave you with this paragraph from Sentletse Diakanyo’s Defining Ourselves, “As Africans, we cannot allow our identity to become dispensable in the name of social expediency. The colonial era reduced African identity almost to nothing. Having liberated themselves from historical thuggery and asserted their identity. Africans should take care, today, not to be blackmailed into watering down what defines them and who they are for the sake of inclusivity. Africans must reclaim and defend their identity, lest we revert to the colonial days when defining ourselves was the task of others”. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review: London, Cape Town, Joburg

What a miserable ending to a really soul capturing novel! London, Cape Town, Joburg by ZukiswaWanner had me hooked from day one but I must say, I was never really ready for that ending – plot twist of note. To be fair, the story starts with two parents mourning their only son who had committed suicide.

From the onset you know that something really bad must have happened for a thirteen-year-old to kill himself but before the author lets us in on the reason, she takes us through one of the best, heart-warming, authentic love stories I have read in a while.

Martin O’Malley and Germaine Spencer, are two imperfect people who come together and build what seems like a perfect nest. They understand each other, defend each other, fight, make up, have loads of sex and most importantly love and respect one another.

I loved every moment of their love story. From the insecurities, jealous moments, moving from city to city and how they grew into such cool, yet strict parents. Wanner takes us on their love journey and also shares stories of those around them.

There is drama and intrigue. Each main character tells their story from their point of you, yes they speak directly to the reader. You taste their food, smell their fragrances, get angry with them and calm down together. It felt like watching a movie in 4D. So many moments I found myself saying, “oh no” or even laughing out loud – much to my partner’s irritation.

The couple meets in London, moves to Cape Town and shit hits the fan when they relocate to Johannesburg. While reading, there were many moments were I would try and predict moments that would shake their relationship. When they moved to Cape Town – I figured the race issues would get to them and would break their love. But, nope, their loved survived South Africa’s racial boxing. 

When they moved to Johannesburg and Martin had a sexy black PA – I thought – yep this is it. The cookie is going to crumble and he is going to leave his English wife for some Busi. Still, Germaine found a sophisticated way to mark her territory – we could all learn a thing or two from this character.

I thought Germaine’s feminism which remains constant throughout the novel would get to Martin as he entrenched himself in his patriarchal culture, business and a little bit of political socialising. Still, the couple stays firm on their well-built love foundation. So what is it? Something must go wrong. And you sort of start feeling the end is near when Zuko’s voice joins the narrative. Zuko is their only son. Although it is via his correspondence with his journal.

The boy has children problems, nothing major. He loves swimming, misses his friends – he is really just a 12-year-old living his live, until that fateful night at his comrade uncle’s house. What happens at his beloved uncle's house left me shocked, hurt and disgusted.

The stand out theme from this novel is: privilege. Privilege gives us a false sense of security, it’s like alcohol. It numbs the senses. Makes us feel good, makes us less conscious and leaves us vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with trusting someone else, someone close, someone family – but with everything happening daily – maybe it is time we sobered up.

Shit hits the fan when the fences of privilege come down and betrayal of the worst kind hits my Martin and Germain.

It is this betrayal that makes the books introduction when Martin feels like he saw hatred in his wife’s eyes – I would hate him too. Martin failed his family big time when they moved to Johannesburg but his biggest failure in my eyes was his inability to act on a vital piece of news his son shared with him.

His death, at his own hands. His death which I could have prevented had I been a better father…” - Martin

Was he paralysed by the love he had for his brother? Was he paralysed by the fact that he had lost all his families savings and needed his brother now more than ever? But shouldn’t protecting, defending and standing up for his son trump all those insecurities – Zuko was his damn son. His only son. His only child. But yet he was paralysed!

The saying, Love will Blind You, best describes this couple’s Joburg life. Everything was set to go wrong as soon as Martin’s biological big wig dad showed up. Martin, initially angry, was over taken by excitement of having “baba”. Only to find “baba” would cheat him hard and when it was discovered – “baba” was 6-feet under – his mother had warned him.

The whole book reads like a really well put together soapie or a dramatical series. As we move between Germaine and Martin’s perspective on phases in their lives and scenes – it is hard not to fall in love with the couple and their associates.

Germaine is a proud feminist and I loved that Martin fell in love with all of her feminism and not ones did he try to change it. Instead he celebrated it. Loved all of her and he himself agreed with her on many issues. Martin was an investment banker, raised by his South African mom and Irish step-dad. He was born and raised in London. Their romance started in London, and they moved to Cape Town when Zuko was a baby.

It is a heart-breaking ending to a really beautiful love story. I wish Wanner could write a follow up to this story so we know where it ends. Does Liam, the uncle go to jail or get killed by Martin? Will Martin and Germaine survive this? I have so many scenarios playing in my head. I am angry at Martin and I can only imagine Germaine’s pain.

Gosh, Zukiswa Wanner is a phenomenal story teller!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dear #MyGoogleZA...[A love letter]

Hey you, I’d say it’s been a while but I checked with you about this letter before I wrote it. I don’t remember when, where and how we met but it feels like you’ve been with me my whole life. From my days as a tertiary student trying to figure out different political ideologies and learning to sift through facts and fiction…you are consistent but not all your info is honest.

This is what I love about you. You’ve connected me with people, places and subjects I doubt I would have met had you not been created. I still remember how when I applied for my honours degree at Wits, it was with your help that I could get all the information I needed. And that one time you saved me from dating a married man and how could I forget how your maps got me to interviews on time.

As you grow, I’ve grown. Thanks to you, I have gone from being a journalist to a digital content strategist – how cool is that. Every day I find myself asking you “how to…” so many things. My current obsession are the motivational videos on YouTube that kick-start my day and the great fitness beasts that encourage me to keep moving.

Oh, Google….without you I would be incomplete. I check with you everything from how to decorate my house, put together a budget, put together a research paper for my Masters…basically you have your hooks on me.

Thank you for always having my back – even though you’ve pissed my doctor off a couple of times.

Yours in curiosity,

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Tribute to Juby Mayet – by Mmagauta Molefe

A tribute lunch dedicated to Juby Mayet was hosted at the SABC in Johannesburg on April 23. Mmagauta Molefe, a comrade and fellow detainee shared this speed at the event.

Juby Mayet (L), Mmagauta Mlefe (R)
Activists, religious leaders, organisations, journalist, trade unionist and others in the 70’s were united under the banner of Black Consciousness, the movement that came up to occupy the empty political space left by the banning of the PAC and ANC.

This collective became targets of the apartheid regime, they were raided, harassed, banned, detained and even murdered. A number of you here, including Juby Mayet, are survivors of that era.

The fear instilled in the then system by the BC led 1976 June 16 uprisings and the organised action that was to happen against the establishment of the homeland Bophutatswana – led to the arrests and banning of various BC connected people, newspapers and organisations in 1977. A day now called Media Freedom day by this regime; I believe Black Consciousness day could have been appropriate.

The unity of people and organisations in the struggle at that time contributed to me associating with a number of journalists, including Juby Mayet. She was one of the sisters some of us looked up to. Off-course a number of people became journalists without any training.

Perhaps the passion to expose the system, heightened with creating awareness in our people inspired this.
And they did their job well. 

There is a beautiful article, ‘Righting in the time of racism’ writtenby Subry Govender, I would like the youth to read.

I was also peddling in writing, ended up working for the Voice. Our political activities brought us together as black people across all spectrums.

As women writers, journalists and poets we tried to form some groupings, short story writing group by women, poetry group etc with the late Sina Kunene, Mamcane, Zodwa Mshibe, Ruth Bengu and the likes, most of the time being brought together by the organiser, Joyce Dube. Juby was the short story writer.

Juby; the mother, the activist suffered under the apartheid system but in the words of Napoleon Hill: “Persistence is the character of men as carbon is to steel”. You have been persistent, committed and alive.

Steve Biko said, “you are either alive and proud or you are dead”.

You never gave up. The commitment of the journalists of the 70’s redefined the role of the journalist and the media in the eyes of the community and also of the system, ‘you are either with us or with them’. 

Your writing and stories defined you. That’s even how some people were exposed.

For us women in the struggle the fight was a tough one. Most of the time we were elected to being secretary and also given topics like the role of the women in the struggle. But still some women emerged.

You are our hero Juby. No doubt chances of you being honoured by this ANC government are slim, for most of them say they are the only people and party that fought in the struggle.

We have so many streets that still have to change names, but none will bear your name because you didn’t sell your soul like others by suddenly emerging and claiming you have been working for the ANC underground.

You will not have a monument because you were not part of the sell-out settlement that keeps enriching a few politically connected people, continues to commodify basic needs like education and keeps widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

And you will die average because you have not been part of the rampant corruption which is now a norm, even rubber stamped by commissions such as the recent released report of the Seriti commission. 

This is sad Juby, my sister.

Andre Gide said, “Be faithful to which exist within you”. I know this is what kept you alive. You are free because you don’t have to explain anything to anybody.

Within yourself, around your children and your community you are known and recognised for your deeds, for your contributions, I am certain this makes you happy and satisfied.

It’s fulfilling to touch people’s lives positively, it does not matter the number.

You have also helped to sustain our former Old Fort detainees and prisoners’ women’s forum, Sizoya Sibuye.
I know it’s not doing so well now, because of your health you are now unable to give it your full attention. Your efforts there are highly appreciated.

For those who haven’t been, please visit No4 the women section to learn some history about former detainees there. Although the system is busy cutting and chopping it, I suspect some of us will be replaced because we not carrying the right card. Please visit now.

I am grateful to the organisers of this event, it is good to honour a person whilst they are still alive, and so one can know they’re appreciated.

Juby my sister, you have played your part, without doubt you are part of our political struggle history.

They harassed you, detained you and even banned you but you came out even stronger. I know you like saying you were not a freedom fighter, that you were a freedom writer, but know there are many different weapons in a war. Your pen was your weapon.

Today I want to first thank your family, your children for being there for you all the way, to also thank you as a friend, comrade and sister, and on behalf of the journalists, of women, children of Azania, I say to you All the best.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: Are You David or Goliath?

Ever stopped yourself from working on a dream because you thought you were not ready or it was too big for you to put together? We sometime convince ourselves that we are not skilled, educated or experienced enough to attempt going after ideas or opportunities close to our hearts. 

Malcolm Gladwell, addresses this very mind-set in his book, David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.  Throughout the book references the lives of game changers to make the point that we can be who or what we want to be – or at least try, regardless of our so-called weaknesses.

As I read this book I recalled many times in my life that I backed down on an opportunity because I believed it was meant for someone from a better school, a higher education or more experience. In those moments I discounted the fact that I was passionate about those subjects or would enjoy the challenge of learning about a field I was curious about.

“The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem” – writes Gladwell.

This quote speaks to the fact that we are all on a journey, trying to figure it all out. The book’s title is based on a story from the Bible about a small shepherd boy David, who defeated a large, giant-like warrior, Goliath. I’ve always believed that this was one of those stories that show that even the small guy stands a chance of winning sometimes.

What Gladwell has done with this story is unpack the fact that the small guy can win, using the big guy’s so called strength against him. He attributes David’s win to the fact that he stuck to what he was good at, was true to himself and the fact that Goliath took him for granted. Basically – Goliath was so used to being perceived as powerful because of his size – but that worked against him this time.

Goliath also assumed how the fight would happen. David broke the rules; brought the sling and stones, hit Goliath on his unprotected forehead and used the giants own sword to cut off its head...

Are you David, or are you Goliath?

Is your own power going to come to your destruction? It’s at moments like these I think of power brands like: Kodak, Nokia and Blackberry – they didn’t see the David’s coming at them with the sling-shot and a stone. Whilst they were comfortable with their position, they didn’t realise the game was changing, they were comfortable in their success. 

Nokia's CEO, was quoted as saying, “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost”. And he was right, they didn’t do anything wrong and so did Goliath. Goliath, like a true warrior of the time, suited up, got his sword ready and was ready to get into combat with another warrior. No one told him about, sling shots and stones – he was never ready.

So if the bible means much to you, that story is a lovely proof point that you can be the underdog that takes over the world and does something exceptional.

“David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giant. By “giants”, I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppressions,” writes Gladwell.

“Should I play by the rules or follow my own instincts? Shall I preserve or give up? Should I strike back or forgive?”

Throughout his book he references famous people and those we do not know but all the stories back a great point. From a father who taught basketball with heart to parents who had to make a choice whether to forgive the criminal that hurt their daughter. 

He even looks at career choices that were made based on the university one chose and the assumption that being smart in school doesn’t always mean you’ll be a success when you get to the adult world.

We all have giants in our lives. What’s yours and have you figured out how you will win the battle?

Dyslexia made me a better business man” - Richard Branson is quoted as saying in Fortune Magazine. That’s an example of a man that beat his Goliath.

I’d recommend Malcolm Gladwell as a great reference for conquering fear and the unknown. When I closed this book – I figured I could go out into the world, give it my all and maybe one day I’ll be the underdog that defeated a Goliath.

“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The journey of self-inflicted guilt...

The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga gives you a front row seat of the effects of self-inflicted guilt.

Photographer: Tokiso Molefe
Opening line: “Ten years ago, I helped a handful of men take my little brother’s life”. My thoughts when I read this ranged from, “did you hate your brother”, “were you a messed up druggie”.

What follows is a story of a young man who is infested with guilt about a decision he made but honestly – he didn’t kill his brother. The circumstances that lead to his brother’s death haunt him for a long time. He even infects himself with HIV to punish himself.

There are so many “oh wow, he did that” moments in the book. The book also plays on the theme that “birds of a feather stick together” – his friends Ruan and Cecelia are as disturbed as he is. One cannot understand what their goals and ambitions in life are. I had actually convinced myself that the book would end with some, ‘assisted suicide’ mission. That’s how troubled these young people are.

They are illegally selling ARVs in Cape Town while smoking everything from industrial glue and weed inbetween living. They are a restless trio. Hence they become the perfect victim for a sick man wearing a mask. 

The book is set pre-2003 just before HIV treatment was available to South Africans. Before then cabinet had not approved it. 

The three are very different in their sameness. Different circumstances brought them together but there is a sense of depression that connects them. 

What I enjoyed about this book is the protagonist’s, Lindanathi, consistency. There is something realistic about him – there is no happy ending to The Reactive. I love stories/movies like that. It’s something many can relate to. Decisions are made and lived with. Not necessarily for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – but it’s that feeling of, “I’m alive so – this is my cross to carry”.

The Reactive left me with that feeling – it’s not a book motivational speakers would encourage you to read – it doesn’t have the energetic “YES, YES, YES”.

Ntshanga’s writing is worthy of all the awards bestowed on him. His writing lets you into Lindanathi’s space, see things as they are and feel things as they are presented. The simplicity of telling a complex story kept me gripped. He has a skilful way of subtly telling the reader that one can’t run away forever – you have to face the things that keep you awake at some point.