Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

{June 18, 2009}   Did I hear Africa? Hand me some Kleenex somebody…

If you ask me to tell you a story about Africa today I will tell you about an overfed minority and a starving majority, poverty in all its hues and shapes, unemployment, HIV, political intolerance, disputed elections, international debts and of course I will tell you at great length about our wonderful leaders. Leaders who are on first name basis with world class luxury, leaders who have no qualms about making a feast out of public resources and leaving crumbs for the rest, those that can access the dinner table that is. I hasten to say here that there are exceptions to this but I know there is a very good number of African leaders who have a story or two to tell about the pleasures of robbing their countries blind; amassing more wealth than their input deserves; hand delivering poverty, hopelessness and all manner of squalor to their citizens; and of course never allowing public grief to stand in the way of the good life. I will tell you about citizens who have been condemned to a life of deprivation with no hope of coming out, rampant unemployment, unnecessary deaths that a single panado could have postponed, citizens living in places that I can’t bring myself to call houses, lacking the most basic of life’s basics, lacking even just the decency of a proper place to pee.
Are you disappointed that my story has nothing on the beauty of the land, the warmth and big hearts of the people, how we are ‘living’ and not ‘dying’ in Africa? How we are fighting back and not taking life’s assaults lying down? And of course how our hearts are swelling with pride at successfully hosting the on-going Confederation Cup games? Are you surprised that I actually know about this other side of Africa?
I probably sound like a dooms-sayer but maybe, just maybe, you may sound even worse if you took one quick peek at the stories making headlines in different African countries right about now.
Countries like Zimbabwe, The Sudan etc may have had more than their fair share of media coverage, but that does not make Kenya, South Africa, Zambia and many other countries any paradise. And talking about Zambia, the news there is currently reading like tasteless fiction bent on making the reader cry; insane amounts of public resources stolen with what I imagine to be utmost impunity by a few people, resulting in donor support to the ministry of health being withdrawn by some partners (and potential deaths for the majority who depend on public hospitals), strikes by health staff and teachers that have had enough of salaries too meagre to support even half a life. As was the case in South Africa during the brief strike by health staff in April, the Zambian poor (who are the majority) felt it more than anyone else. I will not even talk about the clearly selective fight against corruption going on, I mean why should I single Zambia out when “sacred cows” is a language we understand too well in Africa; those that just have to be served whether it means an entire constitution being re-written or courts of law pulling stunts that even the most alert fail to see coming, judiciary…. *yaaawwwwn* ok I won’t go there. I am sure you get the picture and please do feel free to pick your own examples from Cape to Cairo!
I am not generalising, I definitely know better than that, and I will tell you part of the reason for my enlightenment.
As an Honours student, I took a course called Reporting in Africa and I remember one of the topics that never failed to inspire progressive debate was What is Africa? We grappled with such issues as why was it that in Western media, people were largely referred to as say two African men not Ghanaian, Ethiopian etc as distinct from two Norwegian men and not European! We marveled at the sheer ignorance of reducing an entire continent to the status of a country.We wondered too why Africa was almost always in the news for the same things crime, corruption, famine, HIV/AIDS you know them and we never agreed on whether this was misrepresentation or a case of merely stating a fact. There was of course the other coverage of Africa which bordered on the ideal, it was all about the unspoilt nature, the beautiful sunsets etc a line too which we problematized as reinforcing its own stereotypes, which I will allow your imagination to ponder.
I remember always being on the side that argued that Africa was just a geographical land mass and not the home of a homogenous group of people as is often suggested in the blanket use of the term. And I always left those seminars feeling like telling the whole world that there was nothing enlightened about talking about an ‘African spirit’ or an ‘African morality’ that yes, we may have a common history of slavery, colonialism and general deprivation but we are NOT a homogenous mass. I wanted to stand on some mountain and educate some people that if my siblings and I who have grown up in the same home, been nurtured by the same people, cried together, laughed hysterically together, dreamt together, known each other to the point of words no longer being the main form of communication and sharing so much including our very souls, are as different as we are; we have different perspectives and even fail to see eye to eye on more issues than I can list; how much more a clan/community, nation…not to talk about a continent!
See I was so engrossed in those thoughts and the more I went over them, the angrier I felt and to me the more urgent it became that we all speak out if not to educate the uninformed (Western world I imagine) then for the sake of our own sanity! I get quite a high blood pressure (in my mind at least!lol) when I’m not properly treated and I don’t get to educate the culprit on how NOT to treat me. So you can imagine the state my mind was in when I thought of all these things and how WE were getting no respect from the world!
Now when I look at the mess that most of this continent is in, I ask myself over and over ‘the story of Africa: misrepresentation or fact?’ And just how different are we as countries? You know what, I do want to be patriotic but I’m finding that so hard right now and it’s not for lack of trying.
I am thinking of all the speeches being made by politicians all over this continent and how I can bet my last cent that “I wish to reiterate government’s commitment to the well being of our people…. ” will show up somewhere. Promises appear in these speeches with the consistency that words of forever feature in the conversations of a couple in love. I use this comparison because every time I hear the politicians’ love messages my mind switches to squatter camps, to women not accessing maternal health care, to families that have never known what having enough food to eat looks like, starving children that look no different from a shriveled water melon stuck on a pencil, I can paint several pictures.. but my point is I look at this disconnect and I can’t help but think of a partner that loves with their heart, mind and soul but never their wallet. So the words speak love in its purest form but actions show something else…picture this, your partner comes to see you and find you losing your last senses to hunger, they secure the very fat wallet that they are keeping on your behalf then literally dripping honey reaffirm their love for you… but their constant belching keeps giving away the stark difference between your stomach and theirs. Well, if this is the new love I will tell you straight I’m a backward girl and I will never be cool enough to appreciate it so don’t even try to convince me! If it was not tax-payers money financing rock star lifestyles I would indeed forever hold my peace…but like this? Not gonna happen! Look, I plan to be a mother some day and I refuse to allow a few people to create an environment where no amount of hard work on my part will assure my children of any sweet; I want my hard work to be rewarded enough so that if I want to buy my babies Bentley prams and Prada diapers I should be able to damn well do it! But at the rate we are going….. we may all become volunteers financing the never ending needs of our dear elite.
I know there are many other places outside Africa that are not doing too well in terms of ensuring dignity and opportunities for their citizens but I am not talking about those other places… I am talking about here where my inheritance is supposed to be. I think one’s own home is always a realistic place to start because unless you have experienced it you will not feel the pain the same way as the person who is watching the ground they are standing on being stolen from under their feet as they watch…. I am operating on the Chinese (I think) wisdom that if everyone sweeps their front door, the whole street will be clean!
Ok I’m off to more inspiring stuff happening around us, talking of which I must say hats off to Bafana for doing what needed to be done last night! Happy Thursday everybody and do tell me if you are thinking what I’m thinking!


Stella says:

Am so proud of you my best friend!! You are now a true journalist. The article is a true reminder of what is really going on in a place we call “home” . Sad but very true!! Great piece!

Hmm. Africa. The meaning can be very, very general, and then misapplied to the particular. But does the particular embody aspects of the general, by which it counts as part of the general? It all depends what content you give it – and that is part of eternally contested meanings rather than some final and absolute.

Bivan says:

Our leaders bicker over mundane things in the comfort of the city, while nations sink into the abyss and tell tale signs abound at its very core — the rural areas

Sibeso says:

What a piece of work!! We need such thinking and only then can we stop the rot unfolding at our doorsteps!I think African countries need to insist on a higher calibre of politicians and create structures that cannot be easily manipulated by office bearers.Where are you based? It would be nice to meet fellow young women like yourself. You are a gold mine babe, keep it up!!

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