A World Without Colour

2:03 PM / Posted by Daniel C / comments (0)

There was a goat. There will always be a goat. When I am asked of my earliest memory, there is no instant of hesitation as I knit my brow in the endeavour of attempted recollection. Of my years before acorns were currency and sandpits were castles, I possess only one memory.

The calendar pages have yellowed and fallen, crayons have become pencils have become pens have become keyboards. Now, doubt – that inescapable feeling inhibiting all good memories – begins to tickle my mind. The seesaw balances uneasily; a memory true to experience on the one side, and a reality merely adopted by a mind so desperate to preserve on the other. Memory is the glint of water at the end of a hot desert road. But there was a goat, of this I am sure.

I like to think that my memory is symbolic of my intrinsic connection to the wild-eyed beast. But when rationality kicks in, and my mind fastens the seatbelt of logic once more, I realise the memory is part of something more abstract. It is a window: I sat, perched upon the low stone wall, chubby legs hanging down off the cold ledge as I peered below me into the enclosure. The grass was brown. On the far side of the park, a row of trees shed their leaves, yellow, red and orange, droplets of fire dancing in the wind. Bland buildings rose up behind, row upon row, and a palette of tumultuous grey consumed the heavens above. My father was there. This memory, significant not to a soul in the universe save me, has become a gateway into my own childhood.

Think back to the time of childhood. Moments of pure, raw and unmediated experience are commonplace. There is a sheer fascination in following a thousand-legged shongololo on his meandering journey through greasy braai tongs and a weather-torn pool noodle. Crouched down, knees pressing hard against the hot, red-brick paving and hands spread out – the child is absorbed in this fleeting moment. Fleeting because, if we are to remain free from the white-walled rooms of our nearest insane asylum, we leave that child at the poolside. We become enemies to the imagination. We float away into the future.

But to the child this seemingly ridiculous activity is not only acceptable, it is essential. A child recognises desire not premised on the approval of others, but based on individual pleasure. Every day we are imposed with the expected norms of society, and true personal desire becomes difficult to locate outside the innocence of childhood – the uncontaminated mind. Yet conjuring up the image of innocence becomes harder as time goes by. I sit here, barely two decades of existence at my back, yet already the small wendyhouse in my back yard has lost its colour.

“You have to be like a role model.” The words roll off Sinethemba’s tongue as concrete flows, slow, calm yet assuredly. Recalling his times as an Upstart volunteer, he reclines casually on his side, fingers manipulating the swirling motion of his glass as the liquid sloshes languidly inside, epitomising a Roman senator from the pages of Asterix and Obelix. Then, in stark contrast to his reposed mannerisms, “I was shy when I joined Upstart. I had no legs in English and talking without stop was not my thing.” He sets his glass down – the cracking sound when sand is pressed between plastic and tile fills the silence. “Upstart has opened doors for me, I have got to meet people, and now when I need help those people can help me.” It is difficult to believe that this is the same person who considered himself shy, as he touches on the encouragement of his parents, his determination to use Upstart as a supplement to his schooling career rather than a replacement, and the respect he has subsequently gained.

“Most of my friends are not a part of Upstart, on holiday they just sit in the location doing nothing, some of them even smoke. I encourage them not to smoke… so they think I’m stupid.” A smile touches his lips, oval teeth, exposing tiny gaps at the crowns, gleam white in contrast to his dark skin, “Ya… it can be hard.”

“I love to be well-known”
– Sinethemba Baxana, scholar, role-model, future CEO?

As we grow older we begin to care. It is inevitable as the constant attempt to win the approval of our peers takes up its place in our lives, the first threat to fostering our true desires. But there looms another...

At our graffiti engraved mahogany desks, our surnames take precedence and, in between passing scrawled notes from one sweaty palm to another, we learn of the industrial revolution. In our grand lecture theatres, names reduced to numbers, we scribble notes of its importance, impact and implications. Sitting in our low-walled cubes, pictures of loved ones, smiling cats and birthday cards littering the walls – the workplace decoupage – we find ourselves ingrained within the system.

Steam. The industrial revolution. The rise of industry. These may be revered for their contribution in transforming a world of hardship to one which is enjoyed amidst a pizza box, glass of wine and LG’s latest flatscreen, but they possess a dark side too. We are born into a world geared towards industrial, capitalist, materialist, commercial (take your pick) progress. We enter a paradigm of incessant drive to become part of the system, earn money and take our expected place in society – upon the highest rung possible of the cold corporate ladder.

Money - the dirty and smudged rhinos, elephants stained with urine sweat and germ, the occasional leopard, creased and putrid smelling, our “glorious” Big Five. Money provides access. Access to happiness and this is how it goes: money lets us live our dreams, dreams that are forgotten in our venture for wealth, so we pick some new dreams, and are convinced of happiness. We are encouraged into a sphere of industrial driven knowledge under the guise of securing a place as successful and happy members of society.

Our tie-dye clad, bead-toting friends, sporting dread-locks and brown-cracked toenails – the self-proclaimed spiritually uninhibited – are aficionados of their currency-free lifestyles. But while they purport to live in harmony with all that surrounds them, harbouring nothing but love for the mildly poisonous nettle leaf, the only “toilet paper” around for miles, the rest of us must finds ways of supporting our more conventional lifestyles. I am not looking to blame society for indoctrinating us into a means of living that requires vast amounts of money to supplement a comfortable life. I am merely saying that money plays a relatively essential role in contemporary existence. And contemporary life destroys imagination.

“I interviewed Desmond Tutu.” A drawstring falls loose from Sanele’s blue hoodie as he leans forward describing the momentous event with an air of light-hearted intensity, “I thought, why me out of three hundred or so other Upstart members?” He ponders for an instant, “We made the front page of Grocott’s Mail.” He leans back as he talks, his right arm acting the pillar supporting his slender frame. “For me,” he pauses to smack his lips, “fame and fortune are not my priorities.” then, “School was not boring, but after Upstart I found it more interesting, I became more involved.” His hands, sewing an invisible cloth, aid his gesticulated account of how Upstart has enhanced his life. “I love journalism, I am intrigued when you mention the word, it is one of the things I want to pursue in my tertiary education,” his well-thought answers intensify as his explanations gain momentum and his small eyes squint and light up “Now I can research, I can write an article about something, about anything. I’ve gained a lot of skills.” He shifts his leg and continues, “Sometimes you are in a rush [before an interview] you don’t even have time to research, you have to be very quick. So in class when I don’t understand something, I’ll just ask.” He snaps his fingers for emphasis, smiles and continues, “You just have to be curious.” His slender fingers throw a handful of chips into his confident grinning mouth, but he does not hesitate to acknowledge that there are many who have not been chanced with such opportunity as he has, “Particularly in the previously disadvantaged schools, I find that many of their students are lacking in terms of independence.” The picture of motivation, his collected outlook on life is congruent with the “out of the box” thinking that Upstart has bestowed upon him.

“Journalism is something that I live.”
– Sanele Ntshingana, scholar, journalist, editor at large?

“Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet, and we should tread softly.” Alluding to W. B. Yeats’ own heartfelt sorrow, Sir Ken Robinson, at a TED conference, challenged the dominant mindset of linear education. Education driven in one direction only, leaving little room for what the heart may desire outside of trigonometry and mixing sulphites. He went on, “Human communities depend on a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.” I think he is right, and this is where the dreams of an ambitious, snot-nosed and dirty child become something to think about rather than dismiss without further contemplation:
“What are you doing out there sweetie?”
“Watching the clouds…”
“They’re like a movie, when I grow up I’m gonna be the best cloud reader in the world!”
“Don’t be ridiculous dear, nobody has such a silly job, now come inside before you catch cold.”

Bill Watterson is a true revolutionary. His crude sketches of a young boy and his tiger do not suggest schizophrenia as the safe box of creativity, but rather portray a hyperbolic illustration of the freedom we lose as adults. Calvin epitomises the child of dreams and imagination, manifested most explicitly in his friend Hobbes, the stuffed tiger only ever taking life with mom and dad out of frame. We all have a Calvin lurking somewhere inside, yet very few of us have kept Hobbes.
There are always exceptions, people who have held tight to their dreams, people who have turned left while the rest turned right: The footballer who began his career with a string-bound ball of plastic, a pair of tattered trainers and a dusty street. The artist, who sees but a single customer all week, yet sits contentedly painting her umpteenth sky as seen through the cracked glass of her fifth floor window. But all too often aspirations borne in the years of pre-pubescent bliss are dismissed as being childish. Living in a land of dreams cannot be nurtured and realised in a world where economics, law and commerce rule the roost in isolation.

“I like things.” What begins as a giggle, snowballs into a loud chuckle as Sibusiso’s sparkling eyes pick out her peers and lure them into the gaiety. Her affinity to ‘things’ has given her a drive to embrace every opportunity she receives, and she has subsequently found herself the longest standing Upstart member in her school. “We learn to respect someone, that’s the main thing. When we interview someone, we learn not just to barge in asking for an interview.” She sits back nodding with acknowledgment to what she has just said. A tiny sparkling droplet sits on the lobe of each ear; they shine as her faces looks out, embracing the midday sun in the cloudless afternoon. “My teachers are proud of me, three years later I am still in Upstart, I still appear in the newspaper – they are proud of me.” She drifts away. A small smile exemplifies an attitude of comfort as she props her legs atop those of her adjacent friend. But her seemingly absent presence flies back into the conversation, hands flailing in descriptive dance, “In my previous school nobody knew me, but now, every child in Grahamstown knows Sibusiso Klaas.” her innocent chuckle of pride springs from her mouth again. And again she drifts.
Aside from her sporadically flamboyant personality, minute details suggest the presence of a young individual, from the lip of a green polar-neck sweater hangs an earphone, its thick black cord acts the puppeteer with her every movement. A design, not unlike streaky blue dye runs the length of her jeans, and in her black takkies, colourful laces weave their way down, one orange one blue. The smile hasn’t left her lips.

“I see myself a doctor or a scientist.”
- Sibusiso Klaas, student, socialite, microbiologist?

Sinethemba Baxana, Sanele Ntshingana and Sibusiso Klaas, three members of Upstart, sit and chat. They give their accounts of how the programme has benefited not only themselves but the greater community of schoolchildren involved too. In their mid years of high school, the trio displays an initiative to voice their opinions and a confidence rarely seen in schoolchildren, particularly in a region infamous for its dismal education and poor pass rates – the Eastern Cape. Up to this point I have harped on the tune of nurturing talent and creativity, and it was during my time with these kids that I realised a fundamental truth in what I was trying to discover. Things are not as easy as they seem. With my private school, Waldorf education sitting smartly three lines down my CV, my projections of an ideal system of education are premised largely on my own experiences. I have erroneously overlooked an aspect of education that is essential in its own right, education in the impoverished sectors. But while such a realisation had the potential to turn my argument into a crumpled heap lying next to the waste paper bin, it instead brought new glimmer of hope. These children have had doors opened for them, school exists and it exists strongly too, but they have been given a chance to see new horizons outside of the classroom.

I concede that the ideal of following your dreams to the T is not (yet) plausible in our contemporary society, yet efforts can be made. Our world is experiencing radical change; just the other day I read that the top ten most sought after jobs in 2010 did not exist a decade prior, and that we are currently preparing students for jobs still to be created. Well I see two options in response to this, we can either try to predict the future based on the monotonous jobs of the present, or we can teach a microchip to the boring stuff.

And live.

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Malema's rights being imposed? I think not

11:34 AM / Posted by Daniel C / comments (0)

With regards to the High Court’s decision to interdict ANCYL leader Julius Malema from singing his highly controversial struggle song “Kill, the Boer, Kill the Farmer”, I have played witness to a multitude of different reactions. An outcry by individuals for the need to protect the ANCYL leader’s right to freedom of speech has been of particular interest to me.

The unconstitutionality of the court’s decision is apparent when we delve into the complexities surrounding the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Equality Act) versus the Constitution’s definitions of hate speech. The ruling was based on the Equality Act’s perception that hate speech may be defined in terms of its potential to incite harm rather than explicit intent (which is outlined in s 16(2)(c) of the Constitution). This is in itself problematic since, although Malema is overstepping the mark in terms of what the Equality Act outlines as an intention to be hurtful (s 10(1)), his constitutional rights are being infringed. By singing the song, Malema has not explicitly gone against anything that the Constitution defines as hate speech or advocacy of hatred. Robert Brand, in his blog entitled “Low Opinions” shares this contention quite adamantly, yet I choose to reject it.

While I cannot deny the problems that exist when comparing the Equality Act and the Constitution, I feel that they are irrelevant at this stage. Firstly we need to look at the context in which Malema’s actions have taken place. Prominent white supremacist and leader of the AWB, Eugene Terre Blanche was murdered on his farm recently, and before I continue I want to stress that I am by no means drawing an explicit connection between the death of Terre Blanche and the struggle songs sung by Malema. The fact is, as a result of Terre Blanche’s death, the country has been shaken up into a situation containing obvious racial tension. This is not to say that all whites and all blacks have a newfound hate for each other, but rather, minority groups, such as the AWB for instance, have been placed in a position where they undoubtedly feel threatened. Regardless of who the culprits were, if a leader is murdered, the group will feel threatened. Now, in light of Malema’s recent struggle songs, the issue becomes more sensitive and potentially explosive. The words in the struggle songs are directly pertinent to white farmers and therefore the vast majority of AWB supporters, even though Malema’s intentions are irrelevant in this sense. But, following on from Malema’s recent trips to Zimbabwe, where he stirred up Zanu-PF supporters with these struggle songs, the death of a leader by two workers who have pleaded guilty, and the subsequent praise that many have placed upon the perpetrators, it is not irrational to conceive of a situation in which AWB supporters and other white farmers feel threatened to the point of possible retaliation.

So this is the context in which we may view the singing of the struggle songs. In terms of the Constitution Malema is perfectly within his limitations to exercise his right to freedom of expression, but we need to look at the bigger picture. Section 36 of the Constitution outlines the circumstances in which a right may be limited. This section states that a right may be limited if it is justifiable, and part of this clause includes the need to look at the “importance of the purpose of the limitation”. I feel that given the circumstances that we find ourselves in, and the rational possibility of an uprising following the death of Terre Blanche, Malema’s right may be justifiably limited. The fact that the Equality Act provides limitations on freedom of expression that arguably infringe upon those set out by the constitution, and subsequently create a whole new sphere of contradictions and problems is, in this case, irrelevant. So, although in this instance section 36 of the Constitution plays a part in justifying what is offered by the Equality Act, it may also be seen as a coincidence. What is really needed is a revisiting of both the Equality Act and the Constitution to make them more mutually compatible.

I feel that given the circumstances, the court’s decision to interdict Malema from singing his struggle songs is perfectly rational, but not in terms of the Equality Act, it is merely constitutional.

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The Right to know your Rights

3:13 PM / Posted by Daniel C / comments (1)

March 21 (Yes, I do realise this is a little late) sees the annual celebration of Human Rights in South Africa, rights being an integral part of our constitution. The day serves as a reminder of the atrocities that occurred in Sharpeville only five decades prior, and highlights the importance and urgency of honouring these rights.

Human rights are most commonly regarded as the right to life, equality and exemption from discrimination, but I think the most important right of all is too often overlooked – the right to education.

Education is arguably the biggest problem in a country with problems coming out of every nook and cranny. While we can all agree that crime is a paramount issue and needs to be dealt with accordingly, and while the spread of HIV and AIDS is quoted by Nelson Mandela as "...no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue", I would like to argue that neglect for education is the primary reason for almost every other problem that we, as South Africans, are faced with. It is a fact that crime rates drop with a rise in education and literacy, which is only obvious since it allows individuals to conceptualise a better life for themselves, a life with plausible opportunities and goals. HIV and AIDS cannot be beaten with education alone, but 98% of the job will be done if people have the right attitude towards the problem. Education is the only way to bring about such an attitude.

We are sitting in a divided country. South Africa houses some of the best universities in the continent, while schools in rural areas produce children who can barely write, never mind attend an institution for tertiary education. Section 29 of the Bill of Rights states that everyone has the right to a basic education, including a basic adult education, it is a pity that it doesn’t state how good of an education though. If government wants to solve the persisting predicament they always find themselves in, they should stop avoiding a basic human right that has the potential to do this country a whole lot of good.

Just because half of parliament has not received an adequate education, does not mean they have the right to act ignorant enough to ensure the cycle continues.

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Great man, bad man, dead man

2:40 PM / Posted by Daniel C / comments (2)

Denis Beckett’s piece on Eugene Terre Blanche has expanded on the life of the late AWB leader, who was murdered on April 3 2010. His legacy as a Nazi-style oppressor of the black people is well documented and rumors of his cruelty and inhumanity run rife. It is in this context that the article comes across as unique and insightful. Like the author I am by no means condoning any of Terre Blanche’s actions and beliefs, but I feel that the opportunity to get a first-hand account of how he justifies himself is valuable and interesting. Beckett presents us with an outline of the Terre Blanche mind, and it is a pity that we cannot pull from the article a more in-depth analysis of how Terre Blanche viewed his ideologies. We can however gain a distinct sense of the power Terre Blanche exerted through his words. He comes across as a well-versed and articulate man; able to persuade many people into thinking his views are justified and morally viable.

In light of his death, Beckett’s article brings an element of understanding as to how Terre Blanche came to be such a powerful man. I feel he can indeed be likened to historical tyrants such as Hitler. His morals and common sense are unique in that what he believes cannot in any sane world be justified, yet he has the ability to use words as his weapon.

The article questions much when looking at Terre Blanche in a more objective manner. What if he was not so obsessed with his delusional ideas of segregation and white superiority? He could have brought something of true value to this world. He obviously had a powerful mind, but like Lord Acton says, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

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3:06 PM / Posted by Daniel C / comments (0)

Blogging seems to have taken the writing industry by storm. In my first year studying journalism at Rhodes, we were forced to have a blog. Amongst much rumblings and angst, our blogs began to take shape. The they were promptly forgotten.

I have no doubt that my blog still exists somewhere in the recesses of blogspot, but with the password, name and address long forgotten, any hope of restoring it is futile.

So here I go again. The challenge it seems, is to give up and conform. Let me create a blog that is interesting, full of my own ideas and ramblings, and above all not forgotten.

See you soon... hopefully.