Are you thinking what I'm thinking?











If the issue of new media has neither caught your attention nor your interest then I hope the Egypt revolution of 2011 has or at least did while it unfolded. That was the revolution that produced such catch phrases as ‘the revolution has been tweeted/ facebooked’ (inspired by ‘the revolution will not be televised’), ‘facebook revolution’, ‘young people’s revolution’ and so on. See, this revolution was enabled by cell phones, the internet, computers, and so on. These new media technologies enabled interactivity and consensus formation among citizens away from the scrutiny of Mubarak’s administration; they did for Egypt what traditional media had no capacity to do.

So why am I going on about something we already know or to borrow a more vivid expression, why am I stating that the Pope is Catholic? Well, today we are commemorating World Press Freedom Day under the theme ‘21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers’. Some of the talking points around this theme are the increasing role of the internet, the emergence of new media and the striking rise in social networking. Having done my MA thesis in 2010 in the area of new media, I naturally find all these issues very significant, plain irresistible and well worth breaking my blogging hiatus over! Well…., ‘hiatus’ being the better sounding term for inexcusable procrastination but look I’m not here to raise arms against myself so hiatus it shall remain! 🙂 In my thesis I looked at interactive media and user feedback (with a focus on online commentary on news sites), media freedom and responsibility, online gatekeeping/moderation policy and practice of User Generated Content (specifically readers’ comments), and xenophobia. Of the very many issues that came up, one of the most recurrent was the fine nature of the line between free speech and hate speech, and the headaches for the people (moderators) tasked to navigate the inherent grey areas in order to draw that line. Where does one’s freedom of expression end and where does one’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to equality, dignity, freedom from incitement to harm etc begin? Which right gets priority over the others and why? What is the context in which the contestation between rights is playing out? What are the issues? Who suffers the bigger loss if their right is sidelined; the person seeking their right to free speech (which can at times be hate speech) or the person seeking protection from being a victim of hate speech, of incitement to discrimination, harm or hatred? The questions sure go on!

Coming to today’s theme, an important place to begin is to define interactivity which is simply the ability of readers to give feedback on websites via their comments. These interactive opportunities, of course enabled by new media technologies, have a proven potential to promote citizen participation and enhance diverse public deliberation. Egypt is an example of the democratising potential of new media; an example of the extent of the new frontiers that have been attained in communication. These new frontiers have reshaped the way news is delivered and consumed by changing journalism from a lecture (one way) to a conversation (interactive).

They have also affected how politics are conducted, and made available new ways of being a citizen (Egypt is an example again). This, therefore, makes them crucial to and in a democracy. It also makes them an important enabler of a people-focused journalism that not only empowers the public by disseminating information but also facilitates public debate. The converged and easily accessible nature of the new media environment also means restructured power relations: the traditional gatekeeper is no longer able to limit public discourse by preferring certain voices over others. The traditionally marginalised voices can now, more than ever before, take their voices online and be heard. In Africa, social media (facebook, twitter, myspace etc) have significantly restructured these power relations by elevating anyone with access (cell phones have greatly enhanced this) and capacity (e.g. internet literacy) to online content producers, essentially making the traditional gatekeeper redundant.

Evidently, new media has advanced the quest for freedom of expression to unprecedented levels. There is, however, a real threat on this freedom because measures to limit internet freedom are ongoing. Countries with gigantic intranets such as China, Algeria and Burma typify the unprogressive rise of cyberboundaries. Reports have also shown that there are governments world over who are moving in and trying to regulate the internet by asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block some sites. These are some of the issues that motivated this year’s WPFD theme. I choose, however, to shift slightly from this and get you thinking about another key issue within the area: how new media amplifies the inherent tensions between free speech and hate speech vis-a-vis user feedback, and how these are negotiated by news sites.

Have you ever considered, for example, the dilemmas that attend the moderation of interactive user feedback with regard to drawing a line between free speech and hate speech? Or the enhanced potential for loss of other freedoms due to increased freedom of expression online? Should the limits on speech that qualifies as hate speech applied offline be extended to speech online? Is it even practicable to apply speech restrictions online given the nature of the medium? Why, you may ask, am I even talking about limiting free speech on such a day?!

Well, freedom of expression is globally recognised as a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of democracy. This understanding, however, acknowledges that democracy entails balancing free speech and limits on free speech; that free speech cannot be enjoyed at the expense of other rights and neither can it be curtailed without justification. Is it justifiable for example for South African personality Kuli Roberts to write a racially excluding blog that denigrates Coloured women in the name of free speech? Should Julius Malema keep singing ‘kill a farmer, kill a boer’ in a country where race based violence has produced so many casualties, where the nightmares of the atrocities of its recent apartheid past are yet to be laid to complete rest? Did Rwandan media, in enjoying their free speech, contribute to the genocide? What should be done about speech that harms others? You would think that these are pretty straight forward issues but they are not.

The fact is limiting speech (this is well within the provisions of international human rights standards if it is done to protect other rights) creates the risk of the right (free speech) being so restrained that it becomes threatened. Bear in mind at this point that freedom of expression is under continual attack by governments, legislative frameworks etc and that any opportunity to legally restrict it can be conveniently utilised to muzzle legitimate opposition and dissenting voices.

And so we get back to new media which so far provides a largely unrestricted platform for those voices that have been silenced offline; a platform to challenge the dominant political, social and moral discourse being promoted by the powers that monopolise traditional media. But that again raises the issue of control for purposes of accuracy, fairness, truth and general adherence to media ethics. Who is in charge of quality control online? Who will ensure that the content generated on twitter and facebook, for example, is not racist, xenophobic, alarmist or indeed propaganda for war? Is control (for purposes of quality and sticking within legal limits) in the new media environment desirable or even possible? Mind you, this is not traditional media where a few people had/have a monopoly on content and could easily exclude objectionable voices and where content could and still can be centrally policed. This is the new media era, an environment where user generated content (e.g. readers’ comments, facebook and twitter updates etc) literally pours in. The intensified volume and velocity of audience/user participation in public discourse is occurring in torrents, at totally unprecedented levels! It is safe to say as far as these new frontiers go, debates on freedom of expression and what ought to be its limits are far from over.

This blog merely serves to lay down some broad issues for us all to digest and further discuss. I will soon be putting up a blog or more where some of these and other issues will be more nuanced. This promise (of more blogs) I have just made is not just about keeping you informed about upcoming matters but also an attempt at curing my procrastination because with this kind of word already out, I have no choice but to write…at least within this lifetime!

Happy World Press Freedom Day! Aluta Continua!

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United by a common journey: I am every woman and every woman is me - Lwanga Mwilu.

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, the day that women can speak and be heard, in theory at least. I am celebrating my day by standing in solidarity with all my fellow women and by imagining a more woman-friendly world through my wish list:

 

1. I wish for a world where there will be a 100 per cent assurance that a job can be acquired and a promotion or pay hike negotiated without any skirt being taken off. Let society allow women the dignity to compete on merit and by all means quit objectifying our bodies.

2. I wish that more men could love and respect women enough to stop cheating on them; to stop sacrificing their hearts, health, dignity and pride on a few minutes of selfish pleasure. I wish that more women could put their own welfare before their fear to be alone; the fear that makes them accept that a bad man is better than none. A relationship between a man and a woman should not be an exercise in humiliation and a cheating, disrespectful partner makes it exactly that. Fidelity in men is not a dog’s horn; it is not an urban legend; it exists!

3. I wish that more parents will raise their daughters knowing what love is not; what respect is not; what integrity is not…so that when they encounter an abusive man they will know exactly what they are facing. They will not buy into the generations’ old lie that if he loves you he will ‘discipline’ (read beat) you once in a while. They will realise that never in a million years will abuse – emotional, mental and physical – become a form of love. Love never takes away from anyone’s sense of self worth; from anyone’s wellbeing and anything that does is definitely not love.

4. I wish that more women will remember today that motherhood is an honourable undertaking. To give birth to, nurture and raise a child is praiseworthy and whether or not you are receiving the credit and support you deserve, be happy in the knowledge that you are irreplaceable. I believe I represent many adults world over when I quote Renita Weems and say of my mother: “I cannot forget my mother. She [was] my bridge. When I needed to get across, she steadied herself long enough for me to run across safely”.

5. I wish that more women will refuse to accept discrimination as normal. The biggest hurdle to our cause comes when insults on our dignity grow so mechanical through centuries of use that the victims accept it unconsciously. It appears natural; an inevitable way of life. Refuse to be paid less than your input; refuse to be denied any of your rights; refuse to be defined by other people; refuse to be a willing victim of any sexist system.

6. I wish that more women will defeat the curse of low expectations: the damaging but deeply entrenched and widespread belief that it is alright to be disrespected here and there. Beware of participating in your own domination and humiliation; beware of any instrument that undermines your worth even if it comes decorated as culture – case in point, polygamy! Why should having multiple sex partners, which is normally called infidelity, be accepted without question? It may be culture but if it places your health at unnecessary risk and undermines your dignity, then you have a right – a responsibility even – to question it. Every culture was created by people who knew whose interests it was going to serve and I believe women are not who they had in mind when they created polygamy. Learn to expect from others what you give to them; if one man is enough for you, then one woman is definitely enough for him. Whoever teaches you to respect your partner should not neglect to teach you to expect respect in return.

7. I wish more women will remember today that being adequate, strong, smart, beautiful, and independent does not put you at risk of being alone for the rest of your life. It may intimidate some men but that is no reason to tone down your real abilities; do not blame yourself for any man’s insecurity and by all means do not apologise for being phenomenal. There are millions of men out there who will love you exactly the way you are – brains, big job, confidence, beauty, bling and all. Empowered women are the future.

8. I wish that ALL women will attain economic freedom and be able to have a say in their lives and homes without being reminded by Mr. Pathetic that he has worked for everything they are now enjoying. And I wish that ALL men will respect all women no matter how financially dependent they are on them and realise that money does not make any person better than the other; integrity is what makes one better than the other.

I will end my clearly biased wish list by wishing all my fellow women, a happy International Women’s Day and beyond that I wish you a life of dignity, love and respect. I wish you a life that does not stifle your best instincts but instead accommodates and nurtures them; continually providing opportunities for you to be your best. And to all men who are with us on this journey to self love, acceptance and empowerment, may posterity reward you. And to those men who are undermining this journey by doing to women what you wish never to be done to you, allow me to quote one of my favourite people in the world; “I like an honest person. A man who is a man and proud to be a man, not a brute, not a batterer, a man” – Maya. Angelou.

With best regards from your sister, daughter, friend, partner, mother and every woman in the world that wishes issues affecting women could make the global agenda every day!

Author’s note: first published on 08. 03. 10 on Lusaka Times.com



{December 14, 2009}   Karma never gets the address wrong

 

If the world paid any mind to the biblical wisdom of “let he who has no sin cast the first stone”, do you think Tiger Woods would still be the battered man he is right now? And of the millions that have taken a moral high ground and hurled stones through all forms of commentary, how many do you think would continue standing after a public tour of their own closets? The public tour of Tiger’s closet has been a well conducted one what with the tour guides only too keen to ensure that nothing remains unseen.
It has been a while since I last saw so many stones thrown at one person, so intensely and so repeatedly within such a short space of time. I suppose a life celebrated for its ability to garner a lion’s share of talent, fame and fortune cannot realistically expect a church mouse’s portion of scandal, can it? Consider Michael Jackson and the uproar that his child molestation charges caused; Bill Clinton and his Lewinskygate; and now most recent and ongoing, Tiger and what I can only liken to a cardboard house in a hurricane…coming out unscathed is not even a remote possibility.

If you have missed the news surrounding the world’s greatest golfer, then you must live under a really comfortable rock and no, I will not be the one to trespass so let someone else (a Google search perhaps?) interrupt that vacation! After opening with Obama’s inauguration, reaching midway with Michael Jackson’s passing and closing with Tiger’s woes, 2009 can be said to have been a dream year for news (both in terms of content and sales/audiences) and overwhelming public outpouring of sentiments (facebook and twitter have just been crazy!).
This blog is not your typical Tiger story so do not expect any “omg was he trying to set more world records?” “omg how much penance will rescue him from the couch?” or even the really popular angle “is it team ‘whites only’?”(Although on this one I must admit I have made it my business and wondered to myself where preference ends and fetish begins! Mmmh and remember how…oh well never mind. See, I cannot afford a good lawyer so don’t you get me started on that path! Besides I have more pressing uses for my US$10 fortune). What I meant to say was that I’m only referring to Tiger as a case in point to help me think aloud on a few things not that his life is any of my business.

First thought: do people choose to be role models or are they involuntarily cast into this responsibility-intensive role due to their ability to be the best at what they do? And if they didn’t choose it, should they be held accountable for not living up to the expectations it came with? Should they be crucified for failing people who, out of their own will, chose to elevate them to the position of mini deities? Perhaps it is time we all accepted what we already know: greatness, talent, popularity etc do not exempt anyone from being human, they do not make anyone infallible. Staying with this thought, could the outrage being directed at Tiger be coming from people’s own disappointment that he has burst their bubble of a most perfect, super-talented man? Are they angry that he has shattered their illusions and shown that he really is a regular guy…capable of making less than honourable decisions and clearly fighting his own battles like the rest of them?
If, however, the outrage is driven by people’s genuine contempt for infidelity then maybe I should give the human race more credit in that area than I currently do. Because as far as I have seen things work, infidelity has never been prime time news, it is just one of those things, in fact it has been tolerated to the point of being glorified. It has been dressed in all manner of glamorous titles and euphemisms, all of them somehow aimed at softening the stark tragedy that it is. If you are from my part of the world you are probably even familiar with one or two ‘wise’ sayings or cultural ‘wisdom’ defending and even exalting it. It only ever becomes an issue when something goes ‘wrong’ e.g someone gets caught pants down, or they get incapacitated or even die while in the company of the ‘other’ man or woman, or if the cheated on partner decides to leave. Which makes me wonder what Tiger is really being crucified for; does his ‘crime’ lie in doing it or getting caught?

I am all for fair comment on public happenings (gives us conversation lovers more reason to even talk in our sleep!) but I find comment for the sake of judging neither appropriate nor necessary. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable about our values as people. Why, for example, do people find ‘a rise and fall’ story more interesting than a ‘rise and rise’ story? Why do they find it more interesting to talk about people’s failures (excuse the judgemental term) more than their virtues? My take is that people generally feel cleaner after heaping dirt on other people, like wiping themselves clean on others. Ok, in the interest of unity and my desire not to be accused of being Miss Self Righteous, I will from here on use ‘we’, the safest pronoun in the bag! Here goes: WE use other people’s shortcomings to sanctify ourselves; we feel that if someone is worse than us then we are not that bad after all. So this ‘bad’, ‘bad’, man or woman makes everyone else look like saints the same way scruffy people make even average people look really elegant. Or the way a dwarf makes even short people look really tall. And so it becomes a case of dishing out contempt to dwarf another person enough to make us look taller, not that it actually adds even quarter an inch to our heights!

And while we are on the issue, I can’t help but wonder what the picture would have been if it was a married female celebrity of Tiger’s iconic stature e.g…(that’s your cue to contribute) that went around with not one, not two but ten club hosts, waiters, porn stars etc. I bet a new term would have been invented by now because disgraceful would not sound bad enough. And I personally would not be surprised because I’m only too familiar with our world’s standards, what is readily tolerated or even justified as ‘natural’ in men is unreservedly condemned in women. Just consider these terms for a man with multiple sex partners ‘player’ (euphemism of the millennium if you ask me), polygamist (‘it’s our culture’ blah blah blah) and now the female equivalents prostitute, slut and many other unprintables that you and I know. I apologise for that interlude and I apologise further that it has given you a long running assignment as you may now have to find new names for those female ‘players’ and ‘polygamists’ in your neighbourhood! 🙂
All said I guess the real point of my *cough* *coouuugh* sermon is that when we (check how well I’ve kept my word on the pronoun) scorn another person’s shortcomings with the zeal a starving man approaches a free meal, we should remember too that what we put out really does come back to us…hence my favourite creation for the year 2009: KARMA NEVER GETS THE ADDRESS WRONG…it always comes back home. Happy holidays to you all. See you in the magical 2010!



The infamous sex test that has turned the global spotlight on South African athlete Caster Semenya is a negative milestone in our collective history as women world over. It is not just about an 18 year old woman being violated by having her sex questioned in front of the whole world, it is also about a generations- old attempt by patriarchy to define womanhood and ridicule or punish those who do not conform; those who are brave enough to resist the generic categories and write their own life scripts.
I am trying to understand what it is about Caster that makes her a candidate for such suspicion; what makes so many people question whether she indeed is a woman and not a man. Is it, perhaps, because she does not fit the appearance of what ‘common sense’ tells us a woman should look like? Is it because she has a deep voice that does not fit our idea of a woman’s voice? Is it because, her build, strength and sheer speed, do not fit what we know about women and their abilities? It is unsettling because I see a pattern here: Caster is not the first sportswoman to have such a test, which for some reason is being wrongly referred to as a gender test; gender is a social category, it is sex which is biological and that is what is being tested. I think the discomfort that leads to these tests lies in the fact that these women – both white and black – do not in one way or the other, fit society’s idea of what a woman should look like and be capable of. The women they are, flies in the face of some people’s eternally held beliefs about femininity and masculinity. I think the main discomfort in the Caster case is that she challenges the patriarchal aesthetic that to be a woman is to be dolled up, coy, weak, fragile, passive, and all manner of traits people consider feminine. There is actually nothing natural about these attributes. They are mere constructs, which in many ways actually constrain us women. Yet society has naturalised them to the point where to not fit in is to deserve to be called deviant. Consider how many names society has for a woman who questions the status quo: frustrated, emotional female, bitter and so on. Such realities reveal how intolerant society is; how it uses its own preferences as the default position such that anything different is seen as wrong; not up to standard. How un-evolved! Closed mindedness, and its best friend intolerance, is responsible for the suffocation of many progressive perspectives whose only crime is departure from the ‘norm’.
I think what the world cannot forgive also is that Caster is not your typical international star who swears by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada; or is a mobile advert for L’Oreal, Revlon, Mac you name it. She has not seen the need to manipulate her features: straighten her hair, wax off the facial hair, spot a R3000 manicure and so on. Clearly, she does not fit the TV definition of “hot” and “sexy”, the same portrayals that are being used as a blue print by some people. Consider the scary lengths to which some of my fellow women are going to lose weight, not for health reasons but for purposes of ‘beauty’. Overtime these TV and magazine portrayals of slender, usually light skinned bodies as “hot” and “sexy”
assault those that fall outside these categories. Such that healthy and good looking ‘full’ women suddenly feel the need to ‘shape up’ and trim that excess weight! Excess by whose standard?
For Semenya, the humiliating saga continues with preliminary results suggesting that her testosterone level is three times higher than the average woman contains. So what exactly does this result achieve? I believe that does not make her a man as much as an ‘overdose’ of oestrogen in a man (such occurrences have been proved by Biology) does not make him a woman! And again what does this saga mean for the many intersex people that may be talented enough to enter these competitions, will they be turned away for not being woman or man enough?
Well we will wait and see where all this leads, as for now I will just sit here and try to make sense of the contradictions that attend our reality: the infrastructure and technology around us screams 21 st century yet the mindsets say something totally different.



We Zambians will not forget in a hurry the events of July 3, 2008. I don’t know what to call it; the day President Levy Mwanawasa ‘died’ or perhaps the day he did not die? I don’t know, but what I do know for sure is that after one year, I’m finally able to see some humour in that rumour that made world news. The brief background is that after suffering a stroke at an African Union Summit in Egypt, the President was evacuated to Percy military hospital in Paris. While we waited for an update on his condition on that particular day, South African talk radio 702 broke news of his ‘death’ and media all over the world picked the story. This was followed by then South African President Thabo Mbeki observing a moment of silence. And in curious fashion, Zambian media was completely without such news, fuelling a level of speculation I had never imagined possible. We were later told he was alive but not before expending huge amounts of frantic energy and imagination – and that’s where my story begins. I was home for vac and the news found me in Ndola City, on the Copperbelt province, where I was visiting family. I was getting into the CBD when a friend called to confirm what he had heard. And so, “have you heard?” and “is it true?” became the order of the day. Soon I was repeating to each caller what the previous one had told me, each version slightly differing from the other such that within an hour I had passed on so many versions it was difficult to believe it was all about the same event!
Although Ndola City was hosting the annual Zambia International Trade Fair which is a big event, the talk in the CBD was mainly about the President’s ‘passing’. A few people were openly weeping, some speculating about his burial place, some convinced that the wise thing to do was rush home and stay indoors as none could tell what the coming days would bring and others totally indifferent to the news. A few were convinced it was all untrue and malicious. Anxiety, grief, fear and plain shock were evident in the countless conversations triggered by the news.
Now you see, every sister who knows what time it is (i.e. cultured in the enlightened ways of the big city!) has certain places she will not be found dead and certain rules she lives by, yet in the few hours of guesswork I went not to one but several of such places. I broke all the rules of the sisterhood and went on an uncharacteristic spree: eaves dropping, joining in conversations and arguments with strangers and even standing on tip toe behind any cluster of people on the street hoping to get some ‘411’. How I got to such extents beats me to this day. But like many people, my Levy’s ‘death’ verification exercise had begun in earnest and logic was the last thing on my mind.

Street hawkers were already cashing in on the desperation for news by selling printouts of the 702 story. Needless to say I bought a copy and what a struggle reading it was! The ink was so faint it could hardly be seen. If there was a Body Parts Rights Movement I’m very sure my eyes would have reported me for gross abuse! I decided I had had enough of ‘wrong’ places and ‘wrong’ crowds; surely how could I listen to street talk when I knew not only where news was found but also who found it?! So I got my phone from my gigantic handbag (yes, trends have to be followed even if it means carrying 4 Kgs on your shoulder everyday!) and called eight journalist friends in different newsrooms and all they knew was that the chief government spokesman would soon be addressing the nation. Not good enough. I sent countless texts to people I thought might know but nix, most of them did not even bother to reply. And so I was back to street news (put in my place is really what happened but heck, do you really think I will say that about myself?? lol). Besides, one thing I know about home is that “do not talk to strangers” does not work, at least not in ordinary people’s circles. People talk and if you care to listen you don’t even have to read the papers to know what is in the news, you just have to be in a public space like a minibus, a bank queue, a beauty parlour etc to get the 411 for free. I can’t begin to say how familiar I am with conversations that start with a head emerging from some newspaper with something between a laugh and clearing of the throat….. I digress!
Although I keenly chased this news, I was not sure if I wanted to know the truth especially if it was a confirmation of the ‘death’. I must admit that I was not Mwanawasa’s greatest fan: I was critical of and even angry at a number of his policies, but at the same time I recognised that the positive side of his presidency was positive indeed. He had scored several successes and made Zambia a country worth believing in again and I remember how proud I was to tell my non Zambian friends about him and his courageous ways. I had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times between 2002 and 2007. And just months earlier (Christmas of 2007) I had visited State House for an interview with the First Lady and throughout our talk she, in addition to other issues, repeatedly told me what a supportive and inspiring husband and father he was, how much his family had learnt from him, how disciplined and dependable he was and she painted a number of scenarios that made me see the first family in a different light. It was a family just like mine, bound by love and countless memories. And so now apart from my own fear of losing a President and the possibility of political and economic instability, I thought about a family that would have to learn to live without one of its foremost pillars and decided all over again that I wanted him alive.
I walked into an internet cafe and promptly googled the president’s name and there was nothing new. I went on face book and found almost all my Zambian friends had changed their statuses to an assortment of XY is shocked at President Mwanawasa’s death, BC has a dead president or does she? etc. Still on face book a group called “Is President Mwanawasa really dead?” had been formed and already had members. Although all the computers in the cafe were taken, people kept coming in and just hovering behind those browsing! Soon it was a chaotic joint effort with suggestions flying “let’s check state house website” and we would all rush there, “French embassy website” and so on. Our State House website took three lifetimes to open and when it finally did there was nothing close to the news we were dying to hear. People would talk on the phone and share whatever they had learnt. And soon the creative became evident among us as people started going “I have just talked to my uncle’s old neighbour whose ex-wife’s step brother’s workmate’s niece’s friend (or some such creative arrangement! lol) is friends with one of the President’s children” and not to be outwitted another would go “my cousin’s friend has a child with one of the presidential drivers and he has just told her now that no one is crying at state house… so I’m very sure he’s alive” “now come on even if he really is dead you don’t expect those ‘some of us’ (slang for the elite) at state house to wail!?” another would respond. Someone would start “I have a ‘connected’ friend in Paris who might know…” and even though it was a poorly told lie and just as likely to be true as Nicholas Sarkozy sending ME a “Please Call”, someone would promptly offer “use my phone…” and so the panic and guesswork grew. The things I would normally never give a second of my time, I found myself giving my all and then some to. By the time the news was officially dismissed as false, I was well and truly exhausted. I was also very convinced my stilettos and ‘half my weight’ handbag were punishing me for all my life’s sins! I headed back home my initial mission in the CBD completely forgotten.

The official announcement drew its own reactions but that’s really a story for another day, and whether one believed the first or second statement was really an individual choice.

As for me it is enough to say that strange as it was, July 3 brought to the fore our way of life in Zambia, reminding me how phenomenal our conversation skills are: how we love, bond, share, fight, boast, resolve conflict and heal through talking! The economy may have changed how we live as Zambians such that strangers may no longer be welcomed with a meal or drink but there is no shortage in smiles and especially good conversation!



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!
Ta.



et cetera