Ag in Africa

9 November, 2009

Godfrey Motsepe’s evidence to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 15 August 1996

Filed under: Peace — Tags: — Ag @ 6:38 pm

Manase’s late father, Godfrey Motsepe, gave testimony to the TRC about several attempts to assassinate him while he was working on behalf of the ANC in Brussels in the mid-late 1980s. I found his testimony moving and shocking. Moving, in that Mr Motsepe showed such dignity and compassion. Shocking, in that the Belgian authorities did little or nothing to protect his security and may even have colluded with the Apartheid security forces. It’s a very short and readable account. Godfrey Motsepe’s testimony to the TRC.


17 August, 2007

Ag out of africa

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg, south africa — Ag @ 7:32 pm

So this is the last post on this blog. I’m going back to the UK next week. I’ve spent 11 months here in Johannesburg. I’m all done and satisfied. Here are some photos of the excellent people I’ve been with and this beautiful-ugly city – the most exciting city I’ve ever spent time in.


I love Jozi








13 August, 2007

Stuff I’m taking home

Filed under: Development worker, south africa — Ag @ 10:07 pm

I’m going home soon. Back to Bristol, UK. I’ve learned more in eleven months than I can process. Also, I can only see the facade of what I’ve learned. I guess my head will wander through the experiences I’ve had when I’m back on my sofa in my little house on forthcoming long Autumn nights. But these are some of the things I’ve learned in just the last three weeks:

– the value of having respectful, informal ways of addressing people. There are scores of respectful terms that people use when they address each other, like Ma, Aussi, Sissi, Aunty, Chief, Baba, Bra, Ma’am, Sir, etc. You use these words in front of someone’s name or instead of their name. The purpose of using these words is to show respect to a person, whether they are strangers or family-familiar. I really like the fact that I can lean over the counter in a café and call ‘Sorry, Sissi’ when I want to get the waitress’ attention. (Because I’ve been waiting 20 minutes for coffee and when it finally came it was tea – surprisingly regular occurrence!). By speaking in that way I show respect for that waitress. In the UK, I would just call ‘Excuse me’ with no simple way of addressing that particular person. The lack of an appropriate word to address that person seems to enforce the sense that we are strangers, that there is no connection between us.
– dancing and singing is not only for the talented, attention-seeking, eccentric, drunk or shameless. Here it happens everywhere. This suits me fine as I dance when I hear music I love. Here, when I jig around in my car while waiting at traffic lights, the guy in the car next to me will smile and maybe jig a bit too. At home, the guy in the car next to me would pretend it just wasn’t happening.
– jazz does not have to be a class issue, as I had always previously suspected.
– living under almost non-stop sunshine is a liberation – temperate climates are overrated.
– living in a house with lots of other people can be a wonderful and loving experience, instead of a source of annoyance.
– English people are ace fun.
– cockney accents are very sexy.
– Quakers are incredible people. The list of “active witness” activities they are involved in, in Southern Africa, greatly outnumbers their headcount. This year has made me feel privileged to feel like a Beginner Quaker, with all its radicalism, love and active commitment.
– I have more in common with European people than I ever dreamed.
– kids do not have to have hundreds of toys. Two or three is plenty. In fact, kids are not a species apart. They don’t need special-over-educational-attention. They don’t need loads of paraphenalia. Amazingly, I’ve found out that kids can be quite nice things, when they’re not over-indulged, when they’ve not learned that whining can be productive.
– chihuahuas are also ace. Can’t wait til I get old and I can attach one to my arm.

28 July, 2007

Play time at the Constitutional Court

Filed under: johannesburg, Peace, south africa — Ag @ 5:06 pm

One of the unexpected things about my being here is that it gives me some deep insights into the stupid way some things are done back home. In development circles this is called ‘reverse development’. This is where the first world recognises that just maybe it has something to learn from developing countries. This draws a blank expression from most Westerners I’ve met. An expression that says, ‘What can we possibly learn from these natives?’ Most days I find something that UK society could usefully learn from SA. Today, I learned that justice must be seen to be inclusive, open and participatory. I can imagine some bland politician espousing just my point, but today I got proof that this isn’t just a collection of on-message words; this nation is actively pursuing that ideal.

I went on a tour of Constitution Hill. Constitution Hill was originally a horrendous prison in the middle of Joburg, which did unspeakable things to many political and common criminals in SA, including Ghandi. It closed in 1983. Over the past 10 or so years, the new constitutional court has been built on the site of the prison, and many of the old prison buildings have been incorporated into it.

So it was grim beyond belief to tour around the old prison. But then, the bit which I found almost shocking, you get to wander into the newly built Constitutional Court. In you go, through the doors, and there it is – the highest court in the land. And you just wander in and round the court. I went up to where the 11 constitutional judges sit and swung around on their swivel seats – the guide didn’t bat an eyelid. It’s a light and airy place, with low windows so that people can look in at the proceedings from outside. No pomp. No wigs. No nervy security guys. No class bollocks. The court wishes to be a place of the people. I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine being allowed to frolic around our High Court at home. Apart from the fact that I may of course be a dreaded terrorist, everybody would be worried that some 300 year old artifact might break (like maybe one of the judges). Heritage feels like a burden. Here’s a picture of the court and of my sitting in the judge’s chair.

The Constitutional Court

Me as constitutional court judge

The foyer is called ‘Justice Under the Tree’. It emulates the tradition of people meeting under a tree to solve their disputes. There are pillars rising up to mimic shoots, the chandeliers are made like branches with leaves, and there are huge windows and lots of light to make the space open, like it would be under a tree. Here’s a pic:

Justice Under the Tree

Having frolicked in that court, it seems so obvious that the citizens of a country should be allowed and encouraged to wander in, run up and down the steps and swivel on the chairs. A court belongs to its people, and that court was so much richer for its humanity. And I won’t indulge that stoooopid terrorist argument. Anyone who doesn’t realize that the terrorist card is just a means of mass control needs to go on an urgent voyage of life-discovery or otherwise lead a life imprisoned by false fears. One of my favourite tit-bits: ‘A life lived in fear is a life lived by half.’

8 July, 2007

A luta continua

Filed under: south africa — Ag @ 10:42 pm

I’ve just recently got back from the Grahamstown Festival. It’s the largest arts festival in southern Africa, apparently. Although I was working, I managed to see quite a few “shows” – some fantastic contemporary dance, lots of plays, some jazz and hip hop, and lots of art.

But forgetting all that stuff, for me it was the like a crash course in 1) how white and black South Africans interact and 2) the huge gap between rich and poor here. First I found myself hopping around in a running conflict within a specific group of people. There was this whole thing where the White Authority was treating the black folk like kids, and the black guys acted like kids. I know this seems like a grotesque and neat exercise in stereotyping, but I was there, and it was exactly like that. The black guys complained they were being treated like kids, to which the White Authority reacted, ‘Well, you act like kids.’ And they were both right. And, I don’t know, I can only make my own sense of it, but I think that it was a manifestation of everything they were indoctrinated with in their early life. The black guys were rebelling against the White Authority. Unfortunately, the black guys were the main losers as their rebellions were stopping them from benefiting from being at the Festival. It was teenagerish. The White Authority meanwhile tried to dictate to the guys what they should do, where they should go and what they should want, without trying to understand how they were feeling.

This was expressed in patronising language and weird parenting-type behaviour, which was ridiculous as the black guys are all adults. The White Authority got increasingly frustrated at the rebellion. It was a vicious circle of behaviour. Inevitably of course, the shit eventually hit the fan and there were tears at bedtime with all sorts of culturally-different toys being thrown out of the pram. I realise that I have a cold streak because while I was trying to mediate (with some surprising success – I never thought of myself as having any tact or negotiating skills, but turns out I do have a modicum) I was also almost relieved to experience this manifestation of shite apartheid indoctrination. I can sense it everywhere here, but I’ve rarely experienced it being played out.

Kids at the Grahamstown Festival

Grahamstown is in the Eastern Cape province, one of the poorest provinces in SA. And you can’t miss the poverty. Gangs of very young kids wandering around trying to make a few bucks during the one week festival, mostly by covering themselves in white powder and acting like statues – kind of gruesome. Street kids, wearing worn-out, thin clothes that don’t keep them warm in the middle of winter (as it is now). So many of them. Then I went to a restaurant one night. Quite fancy with someone tinkling on the piano. Everyone in the restaurant was white and oh-so-well-heeled. All happy and enjoying the art binge. And outside the door were little skinny cold kids asking for a Rand. Inside I felt like I was in a scene pre-French Revolution, with the masses looking in at the obliviously rich. As Desmond Tutu said last week, it’s surprising that there isn’t a revolution here. This immoral and inhumane divide between the rich elite and the poor masses will surely not be tolerated indefinitely. It pisses me off so much I’ll happily wrench open the till in that restaurant come the day.

12 June, 2007

Lost and (pro)found

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 11:05 pm

Where I am

I’m always getting lost.   

There’s a strange thing here with maps. They’re not popular. When I travel in my car around Joburg and Gauteng, I consult my map if I don’t know where I’m going. But most folk here find this odd. They have little patience with it. When they are in the car with me, they fling it in the back seat and say, ‘Let’s just go Down There (which is Anywhere), then we’ll ask someone’. That’s how they find their way. And it always works. My most-admired-friend Vincent once picked up my (hefty tome-like) map, waggled it in the air and said, ‘So this is what you people in Europe believe in!’ Yes, I do, and it makes sense, but I also felt a bit embarassed.

I’ve got lost quite a lot recently. I couldn’t seem to focus on why I am here and that’s a Bad Thing when I’m so far away from my home landmarks. And it can get depressing because, when I don’t know where I am, I rely on the things I am so familiar with – partying, socialising, adventures. Although these are wonderful important things, they are not Why I’m Here. Then, through amazing grace, things happen which show me where I am and where I want to go. Tonight it was a film. It reminded me of what I can do and where I want to do it. And why. So tonight I feel eyes-wide-open again, and such strong energy. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

I’m also going to try the African approach – ‘Go Down There and ask somebody.’ This will be really difficult cos (I’ll blame it on Englishness, but it might just be me) I’m not in the habit of asking people, ‘What should I do? Where should I go?’ But I’m very excited about where they might take me.

3 June, 2007


Filed under: johannesburg, south africa — Ag @ 5:19 pm

South Africa is in the middle of an ‘indefinite’ strike by public sector workers. Workers are striking for an increase in pay of more than 10% – they’ve been offered 6%. Inflation is running at 6%. On Friday there was a huge march through the centre of Joburg. They passed right by the building I work in, so I stood outside and watched the march pass by.

It was very different from my experience of UK marches. First off, it was incredibly well organised. Each union from each area had their own space and there was a gap between each group. It makes sense that South Africans know how to organise a good march – they’ve had enough experience. Secondly, nearly everyone was dressed similarly – red t-shirts and caps.

Thirdly, my god, they can sing a good song. Everyone was singing the same songs, with harmonies an’ all, and dancing in a beautiful united rythm. Swaying and bending low and fists-up-to-the-sky, right then left, then round again and again and again. Thousands of them. It was a Movement, in both the political and choreographical sense. Like all true manifestations of democracy, it was awesome and irresistible.

21 May, 2007

Meanwhile, 10 hours south…

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 9:37 pm

It’s freakin freezin man!

Just 10 days ago I was basking in Maputo. That pic of me below was taken at night outside, and look! Naked arms. Then we made an error of judgement and drove 10 hours south to Joburg. And look at this obscenity: To be fair, if you look after the 25th it’ll probably be 25 degrees. But if you look today you’ll see it’s going to be -4 tonight, a balmy -2 tomorrow night and -6 on Weds. I daren’t cry in case my face freezes. 

And it’s completely dry. It hasn’t rained for weeks. Apparently it won’t rain til Sept. My skin is cracking. Everybody’s skin is cracking. In the malls and in cars and in offices you see people slathering themselves with grease. Men women babies animals. We’re all trying to stop ourselves from cracking up. I coat my lips with vaseline and they’re dry before I’ve finished my sentence.

Weird weird foreign weather. Actually, weird foreign behaviour as well: nobody here has heating! They have heaters – those horrible gas bottle ones, and the two-bar ones that are reminiscent of the 1970s and nylon – but they don’t have central heating. They say that the winter is too short to merit central heating. Too short? It’s 3 months long! True, it will probably be warm again next week, but these freezing temperatures are not uncommon throughout the winter. Too short! 

But, it takes more than cracked lunar skin and hell freezing over to stop our national sport – crime. My superace friend walked up to Pick n Pay (isn’t that the worst name for a supermarket you’ve ever heard? It’s Tescos, by the way, in disguise) to get me a bottle of wine (really nice stuff and it costs £1!). It’s a 5 minute walk through my leafy suburb. And he got mugged on the way back. Fortunately for him, though not for his assailants, he’s hard so they came off worse. Strangely, they weren’t carrying guns – what sort of amateur mugging behaviour is that?

Meantime, I’m turning my attention to Durban. I’ve never felt moved to visit Durban, but it’s only 6 hours drive and 20 degrees tomorrow. But for tonight I’m going to grease myself, hug my electric oil radiator, moan about the weather with my English friends and drink loads of tea. Home from home.

16 May, 2007

I love Mozambique

Filed under: Mozambique — Ag @ 7:07 pm

I know a lot of my posts are titled ‘I love….’ but I love loads of things. Lucky me! Actually, I love Lucy and Michael and my mum and Poppy and Daisy, so Happy Birthdays from Maputo:

Happy birthday from Maputo

So I’ve just got back from a holiday in Mozambique. It’s gorgeous, empty, tropical, undeveloped and all that stuff that won’t be true in 5 or 10 years. It has the most perfect beaches I’ve ever seen. Actually I’ve seen outrageously perfect beaches in Thailand but they do tend to be peppered by nearly-naked Westerners, looking like fleshy whales, but not as cute. I feel ashamed to be a Westerner in this respect – in Africa and Asia, where modesty in dress and respect for local customs is carefully observed, the bleedin ugly pink Westerners insist on getting their kits off and revealing their pinky-reddy breasts stomachs arses torsos, with no regard for their own dignity or the dignity of the people from whose hospitality they are benefiting. And they just look stupid. We all look stupid enough lying around on beaches anyway, oozing money and leisure and look-at-our-privileged-lives, without blotting the incredible landscapes with our flesh. So PUT SOME CLOTHES ON! Have some respect FFS.

So back to the case in point, whatever that means. The first four pics are taken in the Bazaruto archipelago.

Bazaruto archipelago, Mozambique

Rogerio and the crew
Rogerio and the crew taking us out to sea.

The Indian Ocean, Vilanculos, Mozambique

Bazaruto archipelago, Mozambique

The archipelago is off the coast of Vilanculos, which is about 18 hours drive from Joburg. Vilanculos suffered horribly from a cyclone a couple of months ago, as these two pics show:

Cyclone destruction, Vilanculos
The building at the front had a roof and paneling around it. Now it just has the supports. The roof at the back is covered by plastic because the roof was ripped off. Most of the buildings were damaged in this way.

Cyclone damage, Vilanculos.
This was a warehouse type building before the cyclone.

If you can’t decide where to go for your hols this year, I’d def recommend Vilanculos. It’s beautiful, unspoilt, cheap and they could really do with your custom right now.

29 April, 2007

Rich! Oh yes, everyone wants to be my friend now!

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 10:54 pm

Look! I’ve got platinum! Yessss. A very precious French hydrologist brought this very precious South African rock back from a real mine for me.

Platinum rock

Mining precious metals is HUGE here. Johannesburg even has another name – Egoli – which means City of Gold. (Just one letter away from being the greatest film ever – typical poor municipal planning by the South Africans.) The mines are still why people flock here from Southern Africa – to get relatively well paid jobs underground.

But don’t bother me with gold and silver. Platinum is my preferred metal. And here it is. The real deal, in its raw state. I’m going to do something chemical to it, to turn it into proper platinum. Think I’ll start by whacking it with a hammer then chucking some bleach over it. I’ll post a photo of the resulting ear rings later tonight.

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