Happy 94th Birthday Madiba, I wish Sonny saw you inaugurated in 1984.

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No – the title is not a typo. Read on and you’ll understand.

IN 1989/90, before the whole world saw Nelson Mandela being the first elected Black president, voted in by the people of South Africa in 1994, MaBrr (Brenda Fassie) wrote one of the most powerful songs, that predicted an outcome of peace and jubilation. Read the Lyrics at the bottom of this post and think about how in 1990, they were prophetic! Obviously it was banned, because MaBrr was awesome, and apartheid was like, totally the dumbest thing ever!

Very few predicted that when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he would call for peace and forgiveness, and an end to violence. MaBrrr knew, that we wouldn’t fight, but we’d dance for our president. I play that song for a guy I work with, he says when he feels down it gives him hope and gets him fired up. It makes me want to dance my ass off. Today I am playing it, at random intervals throughout the day, as I do every year because it’s Madiba’s Birthday. Happy 94th to the world’s most endeared man, and the people’s president. Today, we sing and dance for our president’s birthday (and we miss you MaBrr – 3 Nov 1964 – 9 May 2004).

This is what Mandela means to me:

I remember being told in std 5, “When your parents go to the polling station, stay at home, because there will be violence” etc. My mom is political, so we were driving through townships helping people to get to polling stations, and my mom said, you can come, because this will be the greatest day you will ever experience, and we will not take that away from you because of fear. When I was young, I didn’t understand why my parents had beds made up in the garage for people who couldn’t go home because there was violence, and why they told the police there was no one in the house, when I knew there were people in the garage. You see, they did not lie. Yes, my parents were allowing ‘black’ people to stay at our house, which was against the law, but there wasn’t anyone in the house, and when the police checked, all was “as it should be” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because we had to hide people in the garage. Because I went to a polling station in a white area, and everything was routine, people were standing in Line to vote, like they had the privilage their whole lives. I went to various polling stations in the ‘townships’ – and I am not sure anything could ever come close to the jubilation I witnessed. People voting for the first time, being recognized as equal citizens, officially! It was like lightning striking through the air – there was so much energy. I have had to stop writing this many times, because I’ve started welling up. I know this seems silly, but I have the originally released inaugural R5 coin. I remember my mom telling me to keep it because it will be worth something someday. I never knew how much. You see, I keep it somewhere safe, and whenever I happen upon it, I sit, once again amazed at how peaceful,  jubilant and rowdy that day was. Mandela gave us a day of pure unity, pure freedom, pure jubilation and ultimately peace, in a Nation that had never seen any of this. A nation who’s minds had been corrupted. Its people turned against one another. I see the images in my head, of Uncle Alan Thabede coming to visit, and telling us, he had voted, I still remember that look on his face.

And this is about Sonny:

Most of all when I look at that coin, I end up crying. Like I am now. Sobbing and ruining my make up. Like all of this just happened yesterday. I see the face of “Sonny”, laughing as my terrified face rushed away from him into the air, my blonde curls blowing into my face and blinding me as I tried to grab onto his dreadlocks. He looks a little similar to Lucky Dube (Lucky, we miss you). It was exhilarating and scary as he was throwing me in the air, repeatedly. I would be terrified and then we’d laugh hysterically when he caught me again. He ALWAYS caught me again. He didn’t know whether to laugh harder at my terrified face, or my rowdy high-pitched giggles. I know this is an arbitrary memory, and I think I was probably four years old. For me it is one of my favorite. I will never forget it. You see, as a four year old, Sonny Sishange was my favorite person in the world. He used to go down on one knee, to talk to me at eye level, and used to say I was a princess. I think about the looks he must have gotten when he sat down for a tea party with me on the sidewalk outside my dad’s work, in Ladysmith, Apartheid South Africa. He didn’t care. His nickname was Sonny for a reason. He was the brightest and happiest person in the whole world, I am sure of it. His soul exuded pure Joy. He died about three days later, and that is why I remember so clearly him throwing me in the air. For him 1994 was too late. The day he threw me in the air was the last time I saw him. I remember when my dad told my sister and I that he died. Our hearts were broken. It was the first memory I have of death, it was the first time my world shattered. It was the first time I missed someone, and understood I would never see them again. I wasn’t sure if my dad was lying, or if somehow, he had heard the wrong name, but he was there. He saw it happen. Sonny was supposed to visit us that day. I waited but he never came, and neither did my dad. When my dad had gone to fetch him, he was under the weather and showed symptoms of a heart attack. My dad rushed him to the nearest hospital. He was still okay when they got there, but a doctor refused to admit him, because of the colour of his skin. By the time they got to a ‘black’ hospital, it was too late. I remember when Chris Hani was assassinated, how scared and angry everyone was. I remember when Madiba became president, how no-one was sure how that day would go. Broadcast around the world, a new beginning, a blast of light, shattering inequality, but it was all 10 years too late, and instead, I remember a man who should never have died. If that inaugural coin said 1984 instead of 1994, perhaps me and Sonny could play heads or tails with it as a prelude to some game. Perhaps, if Madiba’s freedom, and the freedom of our people had been a little earlier, Sonny would have been around a little longer. He would have had to tell me he was getting a little too old to play catches when I was 13. Maybe when we moved away, we’d have lost contact, and I’d have run into him somewhere, and been so excited. I am some white brat who misses a friend, but for many families, 1994 came too late. For me, I wish it was 1984. Two years after I was born, and about two years worth or reform time, that would have meant changed attitudes, and compassion, and unity, and freedom and healthcare for all that Madiba brought into power with him. Sonny would have gotten medical treatment in time. Many families, have a year they wished it happened. The truth is, apartheid should have never happened at all. We know this, but it is always good to say it out loud.

Alan and Sunny are to this day, the only people my dad worked with, his whole career, that I remember. Alan’s face is still one that makes me smile. They were the only two who ever smiled at me, or ever took the time to pay attention to a little girl playing outside when they came to visit. I cannot remember very well, but I am pretty sure they were the only ‘work friends’ of my dad’s that ever used to visit us at home. The rest I only used to see when we would go to the Moth Club late at night to fetch my dad. I didn’t like any of them and don’t remember a single face or name.  They were stupid. They are filed under the drunkard work friends that used to keep my dad away and make my mom upset. I realize now that I am older, that Sonny and uncle Alan were probably not allowed into the Moth Club, because of their colour. Stupid Moth Club, with their stupid cannons, always smelling like damp. I do however believe, that uncle Alan and Sonny would rather visit us at home anyway, cause then they got to play with me!!!!! My memories of them are always wholesome. So to me, that coin reminds me of them, and how they knew how people treated them, but they always made two little girls believe that there is no such thing as skin colour in friendship, and it means everything to me. That pureness that I’m sure Madiba dreamed of every day.

Lyrics: Brenda Fassie – My Black President

The year 1963
The people’s president
Was taken away by security men
All dressed in a uniform
The brutality, brutality
Oh, no, my black president
Him and his comrades
Were sentenced to isolation
For many painful years
For many painful years
Many painful years
Of hard labour
They broke ropes
But the spirit was never broken
Never broken
Oh, no, my, my black president
He broke ropes
But his spirit was never broken
Never broken
Oh oh oh, my president
Now in 1990
The people’s president
Came out from jail
Raised up his hand and said
Viva, viva, my people
He walked the long road
Back, back to freedom
Back, back to freedom
Freedom for my black president
Let us rejoice for our president
Let us sing for our president
Let us pray for our president
Let us sing, let us dance
For Madiba give us freedom
We thank you Lord
For listening to our prayers
Night and day
Oh oh oh, my president
Madiba
My president
I will die for my president
I will sing for my president
I will stand and say
Viva, viva, viva, viva, viva, viva
(Also check out, too late for Mamma)

Worse for Water

This is a woman whose face I know very well. I would recognise her anywhere. I have only met her once, but I have looked at this picture more than a hundred times, and seen through her eyes, the faces of thousands of woman. This picture affects me so deeply, that although I have had it for months, I have struggled to post it.

She walks 10 kms, with a wheel barrow, to collect water for her whole family. She fills up her containers and pushes her wheel barrow back and forth in a relay, struggling in the heat, with just enough water to last her family for the day. You can see her feet are sore and her back is taking strain. She considers herself lucky, she has a wheel barrow.

It is not the fact that she has to walk so far, and push a heavy load just to have access to something we take for granted that breaks my heart, its the fact that the water is worse for wear. There are cows walking through it, their droppings clouding the surface. There is a slight smell of decaying plant matter and mosquito larvae thrive in the cattle footprints on the edge of the water. The most dangerous thing in these waters is NOT the crocodiles, or the hippos.

As a biologist, I know that the chances of people drinking this water and getting sick are pretty high. The water is not clean enough to drink. In a region where the HIV/Aids infection rate is one of the highest in the world, this water could kill.

Approximately 37% of Black households do not have clean water piped to their homes. This is an unacceptable statistic. This is not equality. Our government must fix this. Access to clean water should be one of the basic human rights. Water is as vital as air. ALL of the people in this region face the same struggle to get water every day. If they can pump water from the Tugela, why can’t they pump water from Jozini, Pongola and other dams? Why can’t the Government provide water pumps? A lot of poor people think that corruption doesn’t affect them, but this is how it affects them the most. Access to government resources is being stolen from them.

This Photo was taken at Muzi Pan, near Mkhuzi Game Reserve KwaZulu-Natal. It is a beautiful location, with amazing birdlife. The community has tried to start up a tourist friendly picnic site, with canoes. The problem is, there is no one visiting. The site is always empty. If you find yourself out in Mkhuzi, please take the time to visit and support the locals. It would be wonderful if this resource could become something to benefit the community, perhaps even grab the attention of the government, and maybe they could even get clean water.

I asked this lady if I could take her photo, as well as a few shots of her containers and wheel barrow, and chatted with her a bit. She told me some of the children in her house get sick, with diarrhea,  but she did not know it could be from the water. She did not expect anything, and so when I gave her R20, she was very excited. You see, that is not even enough for a McDonalds Meal, but, it is enough to buy food for her family for a day. Just one more example of how things we take for granted, could drastically improve someone else’s life.

Please note, I am busy researching the costs involved in getting a water pump installed, so that at least if people walk for miles, they are getting access to clean water. If anyone can help, please contact me!

Humble Sanctuary…

I know I said that I would post a picture of the moon with a follow on anecdote from yesterdays post, but apparently I am a liar who cannot keep my word. To be honest, the moon pic is not really that amazing, so I’m not going to get upset or lose sleep over a broken promise, especially since I am posting a picture of a church right now. So I think I am “redeemed by God’s grace and mercy”, and plus, I’m pretty sure no one cares. There’s always that!

This church was in the middle of Umbazwane, a mostly rural community in the northern KZN, South Africa. It is right by Sodwana Bay. This church was in the middle of a field, with uncut grass, and nothing really close to it, apart from the pastor’s homestead. It was built by the pastor, and the community, and although it is not exactly waterproof, its never wet inside. There are bats in the roof, but the church is clean with handmade wooden benches for pews. I usually don’t really edit photos, other than making them black and white, but this one, I wanted to just desaturate, to give it a moody look.

In a place where people have no electricity and walk to fetch clean water, I cant help but think of it as a humble sanctuary. It is all these people have really, and they take pride in it. The day I was there, a swarm, for lack of a better word, of butterflies came past. I managed to catch it on camera, but not very well as it happened so fast. I wish I had set up a faster shutter, but there wasn’t enough time! Again, all in one post, I have broken my own editing rules and added a 15% highlight so you can see the butterflies a little better. Most of them are black spots! So I’m including another angle of the church in all it’s coloured glory, that was taken earlier in the day when the sun was still very bright, and the butterflies!

A tie that guides…

In Nam, (which is how I like to talk about the time I was in Namibia for a work conference), I had a lot of free time, and nothing really to do but take photo’s. So the one day, I sat on the side of a road and took photo’s of people passing by. This was by far my favourite. These two sisters were walking together holding hands, and the older one was explaining how much further they had to go as the younger ones feet were sore. There is nothing more consoling than an older sibling guiding you and telling you everything is going to be okay. I will be posting a follow up to this, with a picture of the moon…

It reminds me of one of my favourite lyrics:

“Make sure my sister knows I loved her, Make sure my mother knows the same.
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing, Like the love that let us share our name”

-Avett Brothers, Murder in the City

Can a smile change the world…?

When I took this picture of this little girl, she was leaning against me smiling, and I looked down and took the picture. The original is pretty great, but I played around with the contrast so that you cant really recognize her face. She comes from a very poor background, and she had walked 10 kms with her mom to get a wound on her leg dressed. Yet there she is, smiling, like she has nothing in the world to worry about! I really don’t think that a smile could change the world, but I do think a smile could change someone’s day. I know this smile changed mine. So If everyone smiled a lot more, and a lot more people’s days were changed, perhaps the world would change, and be a lot more cheerful. (This is following the Hunters: “If it cools your chinas down…” principle.) Also, this is probably the most cheesy thing you have read today!

A heart for change

In Lower Illovo, there is a “Tree Clinic” run by Operation Bobbi Bear. The Tree Clinic is basically a gathering of rural woman under a Natal Fig Tree (Ficus natalensis). They meet once a week to support each other, get treatment for minor ailments, receive HIV/Aids awareness education, talk about their issues, get advice and assistance with social problems, grants, child care and many other things. Operation Bobbi Bear also hands out second hand clothes and some food items that have been donated by private people and companies. This is one of the Zulu spiritual leaders at the Tree, addressing the woman before a blessing was given to an unborn baby. Some representatives from Keep a Child Alive (one of the funders of The Tree Clinic and OBB) were also visiting that day. The weather was beautiful, and Mrs Ndandwe was excited to see all the woman with a heart to change their communities.

What it Means to Buy Life

Alicia Keys - Buy Life (From KCA site)

Alicia Keys - Buy Life (From KCA site)

Tomorrow, the most well known Celebrities, such as Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Lady Gaga, David LaChapelle, Justinn Timberlake, Usher Raymond, Serena Williams, Elijah Wood, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Hudson, and a few others are giving up their digital life to raise awareness and funds on World Aids Day. The Premise is simple, on the 1 December, they die (digitally). They will cease all social network communication until such time as enough funds ($1 million) are raised to buy back their digital life, at which stage they will return and continue as normal.

My heart is heavy as I think about it. Not because of their digital death, but because of what it represents, and people I know in the real world who have died. What you are actually doing by donating, is buying the real life of a child, in a third world country. A child who would die in the real world without your help. You see, you are paying for ARV’s for children, pregnant women etc, you are buying them life. ARV’s mean that people do not need to die of HIV/Aids. This money will not only be used for ARV’s, but also funding for various NGO’s in many third world countries, who do many things to combat the spread of HIV. What a great way to raise awareness and do something tangible to help on World Aids Day: Buy Life.

As I think about how much I admire the Keep A Child Alive’s influence, and how brilliant this Buy Life Campaign is, I think about a woman who had the same goal, but gave her life trying to achieve it. As I look out of my window, at the sea, at the “steady waves of fearless hope and grace”, I am thinking of a woman I admire perhaps more than anyone I know. A fearless woman I never met. A woman who once lived not so far away from me. A woman who paved the way for many other South Africans. A woman who empowered other women. A woman who brought a wave of change, that we can all see evident in every community in KZN as World Aids Day approaches tomorrow. She was not a first lady. She was not a well known Actress or singer. Most of the World outside of South Africa, and probably including quite a few South Africans, have never heard of her. They do not know how much she sacrificed, or how strong she was. Her name was Gugu Dlamini. Remember it: She deserves to be remembered.

Close to this time in December of 1998, a woman who was not a celebrity, who if she lived today, wouldnt have had millions of twitter and facebook followers, did what these celebrities are emulating. She gave her life for a cause. Despite death threats, GUGU DLAMINI, of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest HIV infection rate in the World, continued to raise awareness and call for the stigma attached to HIV/Aids to be torn down. She was the one of the first woman in South Africa to be open and honest about her HIV status, publicly! She told everyone who would listen, to try and raise awareness. In those days, you just didn’t talk about HIV/Aids in South Africa, and it is because of this our infection rate is so high. She opened the doors for discussion and she paid with her life.

On the 12 December 1998, she was beaten to death in her community, for bringing “Shame” to the area, by openly admitting she was HIV positive. If I am honest, the police failed her. After she was beaten, they took too long to arrive and she didn’t receive treatment soon enough. She had reported the death threats and they did nothing. After her death, people were outraged, and began to realize just how deadly “stigma” can be. More deadly than the disease itself. She was only 36 years old. She did not need to die. It was a sacrifice she willingly made. She said she did not care about what people thought, she wanted to raise awareness. I am sitting here and my eyes are welling up, because I remember when I heard of her death. I was still in school, 12 years ago and I remember my Aunt telling me about it. Today in South Africa, many people are raising awareness, especially around World Aids Day, but very few remember the woman who started it all. An Aids activist who fought with her life to bring freedom, freedom to be open about HIV/Aids, and to talk about it. Freedom that will save many lives.

Local celebrities are being publicly tested, to encourage others to know their status. Knowing your status not only saves your life, but the lives of others. It brings down the infection rate. This was Gugu Dlamini’s message! People die needlessly because of the stigma attached to the disease. They do not want to be tested, so they do not know there status, and do not seek treatment. Not knowing your status can be deadly.

A woman I volunteered with, at an Aids Clinic, found out she was HIV positive when her child died of Aids. If she knew her status she could have taken ARV’s, and saved her baby, although in those days, there was no funding available. As far as I am aware, she had slept with two men in her whole life. Her first husband, who died in an accident, and her second life partner, with whom she had the child. She had nothing to be ashamed about, but she never in a million years thought she could have the disease, so she never got tested! Ten years after finding out, she was provided with ARV’s, but funding ran out and soon after she could no longer take them, she passed away, and every time I think about her, I am heartbroken.

You see, because of the work Keep A Child Alive does, women like her, and her child, no longer need to die. People die needlessly every day, innocent children die needlessly every day, of HIV/AIDS complications, because they simply cannot afford the treatment. This is what Keep a Child Alive fights for! The best gift you can buy this Christmas is Life! (Obviously I do not work for Keep a Child Alive, I just believe in what they are doing)

[http://www.youtube.com/user/KCADigitalDeath#p/a/u/0/ylmmkQWd22s]

Kim Kardashian is Virtually Dead....

Kim Kardashian is Virtually Dead....