Tag Archive: politics

Johnny Clegg



Small town Eastern Cape

Juluka was coming to town and we wheedled and dealdled our way into being allowed to go to the concert.

They sent us, 60-odd 17 year olds down to the town hall in full stepping out uniform. Tights, ties, blazers, bashers – real concert attending outfits.

We had strict instructions to stay seated the entire show.

We were 17. It was 19985. We were politically aware and appalled. And it was Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu. Staying seated was never going to happen.

By the third song we were all on our feet and by the ends of the concert we were wearing ties and headbands and our bashers were bashed. We were a sweaty heap of ecstatic teenagers.

We paid for it afterwards but that was, and remains, the best concert I have ever been to.



45 years old


Johnny Clegg came to town and I was given a ticket by a friend of mine. Four of us went to the Playhouse in a taxi and sat in the second row.

And I was 17 all over again. Johnny Clegg is older and greyer and he didn’t do his iconic foot stamping thing. I guess old hips don’t flex quite the way young ones do.

Johnny Clegg

But it was still Johnny Clegg and Impi and Scatterlings still got us all on our feet.


It was magnificent.

He is legend

The Yacoubian Building

By Alaa Al Aswany

Apparently when this book was published there was a huge outcry by Egyptians claiming that it depicts a life so far removed from actual Egyptian life as to be slanderous. There were also rave reviews exclaiming how wonderful it was to finally see life in Egypt, Cairo in particular, how it actually is rather than how it pretends to be.

I cannot imagine that the stories told in this very readable and entertaining book are very far removed from actual lives. I fear the reaction that it was lies, lies, all lies, may have come primarily from the more conservative sections of the religious societies portrayed who still like to pretend long sleeves and social disapproval actually remove all sexual behaviour in individuals.

We all know that’s a load of crap, don’t we?

Anyway – this book centres on a building called the Yacoubian Building (funny that) in Cairo. It takes place around the time of the invasion of Kuwait but considering the slight change in the Iraqi, Iranian, Palestinian type situation since, it could be happening right now really.

The 10 stories of the various characters are woven around each other without a great deal of connection. All the characters are connected to the building, but do not always even know of each other. The book follows each story for a while before moving onto the next story. This makes reading the book very easy as it almost seems like a tv series or soapie with short, manageable bits of information about each situation. You could read this book over a period of time, reading small chunks every evening, or read it like it did – in two sittings.

The stories include all of the major life issues  – sex, love, romance, money, greed, religion and faith. The characters are all very believable and as the reader I got involved in each one’s life. As a new story would recommence I would be glad to ‘see’ the characters again and find out what had happened.

In no ways can this book be assumed to be a reflection of all of Egyptian life. No intelligent reader, surely, ever believes any work, even non-fiction, to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Surely!

This book in no way claims to be a true and complete representation of life in Egypt, or in Cairo. It is a work of fiction after all. But let’s also be honest about the fact that poverty and religious zeal leads people to do odd things, things that the religious and political leaders may rather no one discussed.

As a work of fiction written by an Egyptian and set in Egypt, The Yacoubian Building is an interesting look at a slice of life that I believed to be completely possible.

Translated books also have their own challenges. Some lines sounded really daft but I have no idea what they may have sounded like in the original and so I was forgiving of the author.

Worth a read I’d say

Note: I forgot that i had read a Nigerian book – twit i am

so now i have read two

It took me a while to find my next round-the-world book. I started two other books and 150 pages in decided that it was just a waste of more time to finish them.
And then I found this book


Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest, and an author shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing, and longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award. And this book was a New York Times bestseller.
Not a combination that happens often I wouldn’t think.

This book is actually a series of five stories, unrelated except for their theme: Children of Africa. The title comes from some advice a father gives his daughter in Rwanda. If anyone comes, say you are one of them. when the daughter asks who, the father says anyone. Merge, blend, do and say what is required to stay alive. Not the advice one expects a child to have to get really.

Of the five, I found four to be incredible stories. One I didn’t much like but maybe because I don’t know the context well enough.

In the other four, quite simple tales are told of children living in the harsh reality of Kenya, Benin, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Simple but harrowing and distressing and saddening. These children are facing things adults should never face and the images of the little bodies running and begging and weeping will stay with me for ages. From the uncle trying to sell his nice and nephew into slavery, to the Rwandan girl seeing the horror of the genocide up close, each story tells of an experience much too common in Africa.

Other comments written about this book that I have read talk about how uplifting it is, about how it shows the resilience of children. I didn’t see that really. I felt so sad that we as a continent and we as a species create situations in which children are sold as slaves, watch their parents murder and be murdered, and face persecution for things they had no say in whatsoever.

What Akpan does amazingly well, especially for a man who, I assume as a Catholic priest, has no children, is capture the voice of each of the children in his stories. Children do have a non-melodramatic way of talking about the most horrendous things, and when used as a story-telling technique, this works to keep the stories from being mawkish.

He also uses lots of local dialect and speech patterns. I have read other reviewers talking about how this detracts as it makes it hard to understand every word.
I think this is the point. You do not need to understand every single part of the whole to know what it all means, be the whole a sentence or the lives of these children. Don’t read the stories thinking you will come out with a complete picture of anything. What each story is, is a snippet from the lives of millions and millions of children of Africa.
If you want to know more, go and find out.

Very glad to have read this – and although it counts as my Nigerian book, it really is an everywhere-in-Africa book. I think all Africans should read it. And all people not African too. The essence of the stories is certainly not restricted to Africa.


Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

Immaculee Ilibagiza

When looking for a Rwandan book I deliberately avoided Hotel Rwanda. This was in part because I have already read it and I seldom reread books, and in part because I wanted a different story. Much as I do not want to read books which are about the troubles in a country only, with Rwanda I think it is unavoidable.  The atrocities are also so recent that maybe we should still be talking about them and keeping them very fresh in our memories.


Clearly ‘never again’ means very little to us as a species, but we can keep hoping!


I avoided this book for a long while; I have had it on my shelf for over a year. I don’t believe in the god the book is about and I find it hard not to get angry when people thank any god for saving them when all I can think about is why their god put them in danger in the first place.  But I put that aside and decided to read Immaculee’s story of survival. And what a story it was.


We all know what happened in Rwanda and this book is not about the bigger picture at all. It is about one woman and her experiences only. And for me that made it much more real and frightening. Immaculee Ilibagizawas a very ordinary young woman at university, visiting her parental home in her village when all hell broke loose in Rwanda. Unable to believe what was actually happening, her family did not flee to Zaire as they considered, but stayed in Rwanda. The result is that Ilibagiza is, other than her oldest brother who was studying outside of Rwanda at the time, the only member of her family left alive, left to tell the story.

Ilibagiza spent three months hiding in a bathroom with seven other women, a bathroom maybe big enough for two people to pass each other with a squeeze. They sat on top of each other and sat and stood in complete silence to avoid detection. For three months!

Periodically the Hutu killers would search the house they were hiding in. A wardrobe over the bathroom door was their only camouflage. They listened to the Hutu killers talking about their desire to kill all of the cockroaches; they heard the radio broadcasts of the president instructing Hutus to kill the snakes, even the baby snakes; they listened as it seemed that no one else in the world knew or cared what was going on. But they survived. They hung on.


Ilibagiza believes they were hidden from their wannabe killer by the love of god, her god that she prayer to all day every day. And I do believe that in her experience this is true. How they remained undetected can truly be considered amazing, miraculous even.


While I may not have the same beliefs as Ilibagiza, I found her story compelling and fascinating. That she emerged from the bathroom with her entire family dead, and did not go on a Hutu murdering rampage speaks volumes of her connection with her god. I know I would have found it almost impossible not to want revenge.

But surprisingly Rwandans seem not to have responded like that. Maybe when a million people die in 100 days the weight of death is so great that further deaths should be avoided at all costs.

Interestingly, the Hutu’s who were sent to jail for the murders are now starting to be released and return to their villages, the villages in which they went on their murderous rampages, killing friends and families. As Ilibagiza says, we can only hope that everyone has forgiveness in their hearts.

Left to Tell is an extraordinary tale of an ordinary person in extreme circumstances. It is a story of survival against all the odds, and a story of faith and belief. It is worth reading.


I am reading a book at the moment that has rattled my cage and set me to some serious thinking

It is a book written by a Palestinian and is really about the Israel/Palestine ‘situation’

I do not know very much about the situation to be honest. I am shamefully ignorant in fact. But what I find so interesting is my struggle with maybe actually thinking Israel is wrong. Phosphorous bombs that set babies alight for days? Really – how is that not a war crime I wonder?

And yet it is very hard to conceive of being anti-Israel and by extension anti-Jews and by extension again anti-Semitic when the other option is to be anti-Arab and anti-Muslim

Being anti-Semitic is something no one wants to be called – I certainly do not. But anti-Muslim – well since 9/11 and the ‘with us or against us’ speech – anti-Muslim is kinda almost expected

Why is that okay? Why is anti-Semitism so not okay but anti-Muslim practically applauded? In what way are they different at their core?  How is anti-any group more ‘okay’ than any other prejudice?

And how does any group who was massacred for who and what they are even contemplate doing the same to another group.


I think maybe I am just anti-human. We are a disgusting species.


The gang rape and subsequent video of the crime which went viral in Soweto has South Africa up in arms at the moment. And rightly so – no person should be subjected to what that girl was subjected too. The rape itself is an horrendous thing to endure, but to have it recorded and watched by hundreds is just the worst kind of insult to add to the injury.


There are cries on all social media for the teenage rapists to be strung up by their delicate bits, for castration, for them to be locked up forever, for the death penalty to be reinstated especially for them. I understand this anger and I do think the boys must be punished – what they did is the worst kind of awful.


BUT – I think we need to look at the society we are part of, even over here in our air conned expensive houses and plush motor cars, that can created teenage boys who think this is okay, and other teenagers in their droves who want to watch the video of this kind of thing. Mandy Wiener said on 702 that she, as an adult and journalist, found it hard to watch and that she was the only person in the office able to watch it all; and that she did so only because she had to. Grown ups balk at watching it when teenagers, and younger probably, watch it for fun! This cannot be a reflection of the lack of moral fibre in the kids but rather a reflection of the awfulness they consider ordinary or normal.


These rapist children were not born evil. These kids watching the video and forwarding it were not born with a decreased sense of horror. They were babies like every other baby in the country. Only they were unlucky enough to be born into poverty and grow up in a deprived society. How many of these rapists know their fathers I wonder? How many of them have mothers who are up and out of the house before day break to travel to rich suburbs to clean houses? How many of them had the chance to attend a school with windows and desks and electronic equipment, never mind a sober teacher every day?


I am not saying this excuses their behaviour – but as long as we keep letting kids grow up like this we are part of the reason why they go so far off the rails that gang rape becomes a fun thing to do or watch on a boring Friday evening.


What can we do you may say. The problem is the governments, not ours. It is society not us. It’s not my fault.


We are society. And the government clearly gives less of a shit about the poor than they do about wives and mansions and parties. If we want the society we live in to be safer for all then we have to do something.


Do you know where your domestic worker’s children go to school? Do you know that many government schools have school fees of lower than R500 a year? R500 to you and me is a great deal less than it is to a domestic worker/office cleaner/petrol attendant.

Pay for one kid to go to school. Pay your cleaning lady’s electricity bill so her kids can do homework by real light and not candle light. Make sure the receptionist at work has enough food to feed her kids.


Maybe 100 of us have to try for there to be a different future for 1 kid. Maybe those are the odd.  But if none of us try then there will be no change. And if 1000 of us try, 10 futures will change. And all the people that child interacts with may have a different future too.


Idealistic you may say. But what other choice do we have other than to try! I know I am not prepared to sit by and allow my society, my country to breed kids who rape and watch rape and laugh. It is unfair on both the rape survivor and the rapists.  8 young people’s lives were ruined when that rape took place – and countless others have been exposed to gruesome images they are one day going to wish they could erase from their memories.


What are we going to do about it?