Determined to dedicate myself to writing after I retired from teaching in 2000, my first thought was to capture the history of Marabastad (The Asiatic Bazaar), the location in which I had lived as a child.  I immediately set about interviewing people who had lived in the location.  During my interviews with Sinthumbi Naidoo, he made me aware of his concern that Tamil religious practices were losing their meaning for Tamil South Africans and suggested that I work with his son, Ronnie, a poosari, to put together a manual that explained the meaning of the rites. That is what we did and A Little Book of Tamil Religious Rituals was published in October 2004.  In between interviews for my book on Marabastad, I began recording my experiences as a teacher in Limpopo Province and day-to-day happenings, my friendships, my hijacking, a wedding in the family, among other things and compiled a book of short stories, Jail Birds and Others , which was published in December 2004.  Soon afterwards, I completed Stories from the Asiatic Bazaar and it was published in 2007.

 In 1994, South Africa became a democratic country but the racism into which we had been socialised did not disappear at the stroke of a pen and writers continue to reflect experiences gained through racial and cultural balkanisation. Consequently, varying racial, ethnic and cultural experiences, do not find affinity across the board.  And publishers, concerned only with markets, are unwilling to takes risks with unknown writers. They told me time and again that there was no market for my work so I decided to go into publishing. I have published A Little Book of Tamil Religious Rituals, Stories from the Asiatic Bazaar, Monkey Business by my sister, Seetha Ray, and am working on a book of children’s plays by my brother Seeni Naidoo, a short story that he has written, more short stories, a novel and three novellas and children’s stories that I have written.

 I spent the years 1977 to 1983, involved in Anti-SAIC and UDF campaigns, which inspired me to write a number of plays:  We 3 Kings, a farce about ‘Indian’ elections, Ikhayalethu, about dispossession, Masks, the search for African identity.  One of my revues, The Masterplan, a comic interpretation of separate development and the Tricameral Parliament, was banned in September 1983.   My last play Flight from the Mahabarath, written sometime in the 1990s, is a feminist critique of the epic.
All my plays have now been published under the title WIP Theatre Plays. (WIP = Work-in-Progress)
Going through my papers, I discovered a number of articles written over the years so I revised them and put them all together with new articles.  They include reflections on drama, reactions to apartheid, reflections on writing, my joy at discovering Milan Kundera and my attempt to understand the functions of religion and democracy in a society.

Appeal

  • Dear Mr Naidoo
  • It is with utmost urgency that I draw to your attention the proposed development of Rietfontein Farm 61IR, situated bordering Linksfield Rd, Club Str, N3 highway and Modderfontein Rd.  This area contains the Site of the Historic Rietfontein Isolation Hospital.
  • There is intent to develop this land into an inclusionary development.  Unhappily it contains the graves of some 7000 people who have perished from some of the worst plagues known to mankind.  Only a very small portion of  these graves can actually be located.  There are two missing cemeteries, the Plague Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery.  We have just managed to find burial record for some of the graves in the Jewish cemetery but not the location there of. Most of the other records have all been destroyed and the grave stones and markers have been stolen or smashed.  Many of the graves had wooden crosses that have been burned in the veld fires.  In addition there has been extensive illegal dumping on the site.
  • In addition to the risks associated with opening up the graves of people who perished from Smallpox, we have the historical background that is also of utmost importance and needs to be protected.  This is where I am appealing to the a Indian Community to come forward to represent Ghandi s history and preserve his contribution and memory in this area.  If it weren't for his intervention, many of the descendants of Johannesburg wouldn't be here today.
  • We are a very small action group and have the backing of the Heritage Society of South Africa.  I am sure that you are aware of Ghandi s role in the identification of the outbreak of the Plague in Johannesburg as well as the fact that had it not been for his quick intervention in isolating  the victims and bringing it to the attention of the authorities at the time, the spread would have been absolutely catastrophic.  This was as a result of the apartheid regulations in place at the time.  He was instrumental in getting many of these Indian people to be treated at Rietfontein Hospital and worked closely with the authorities.  In addition, we have the added association of Desmond TuTu who was also treated there.  The buildings are of historical value as are the lives of the Drs and nurses that worked there. There are other more appropriate initiatives that need to be explored.  History and opportunity once lost can seldom be recovered.
  • In a scramble to amass a huge heap of cash, the developer would house some 8000 people from disadvantaged backgrounds onto the land that holds the remains of many of their own ancestors.  They would have no understanding of the associated risks of the diseases or of the history and will occupy bonded properties. The developer plans to "make features" of the small number of graves that can still be identified!   This is morally disturbing.  We cannot standby and allow this to happen. Every single South African is his brothers keeper and we need to bring a halt to this development on a number of issues.  The details of which are too many to discuss in this e mail.
  • I emplore you to bring this to the attention of all interested and influential parties in the Indian community as I am at a loss as to who to contact.  The development company is Urban Dynamics.  Be aware that we disagree with much of the information that they are giving out to the public.  It would be helpful to lodge a formal objection in writing to the scoping company Bokamasa who are busy with their feasibility study  You are more than welcome to contact me for any additional information or contacts that you may require.  This is of the utmost urgency and it would be appreciated if you would forward this to as many influential people in the Indian Community as possible.
  • Sincerely
  • Lynne van der Schyff

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The Rule of Law

The growth and development of the individual is made possible by the security of living in community – a person is a person through other persons – ubuntu. The aim of democracy is to provide the security that allows for maximum individual freedom.

Democracy from demos (people, awethu) and kratos (power, amandla) – amandla awethu – government of the people, by the people, for the people is based on the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality. Fraternity and equality translate into responsibility and respect for others.

But human beings are self-serving creatures; we often forget fraternity and equality in pursuit of liberty. Without them, freedom remains ambiguous, both positive and negative. Positive freedom leads to beneficial creativity and development; negative freedom leads to exploitation, manipulation, fraud and destruction. In order to provide the security that leads to positive individual freedom, a democratic government, through the rule of law, enforces conformity to fraternity and equality to ensure liberty.

Freedom in democracy means responsible freedom: we cannot simply do as we please; we have to take into consideration how our actions may affect others. And respect for the rights of others translates into respect for the rule of law.

The rule of law, which a Government enforces through its police force and the justice system, is there to foster a culture of accountability. The rule of law makes a government an institution of control – even democratically elected governments, and governance is on a continuum of control. The difference between authoritarian and democratic government is simply the difference in degree of control. And the degree of control determines the degree of individual freedom.

Individual freedom is probably the most significant ingredient in the progress and development of a society. If we look at societies where there is great progress, we see high degrees of individual freedom. The progress that results from such individual creativity and innovation, reaches across borders, bestowing benefits globally.

Where the rule of law does not operate, as in situations of high crime, individual freedom is diminished. Crime is usually associated with poverty; poor people are desperate people with little individual freedom – the resort to crime is an expression of their freedom. Poverty, itself a crime, reveals a society’s repudiation of fraternity and equality. It is an indictment of a government and society that calls itself democratic. Poverty exists where those who are not poor, pursue individual freedom at the expense of those who live in dehumanising conditions. That makes us all criminals whether we are directly engaged in criminal activities or not.

Though we all recognize that poverty leads to crime, we don’t acknowledge that poverty is an indication of the failure of democracy. And the situation is exacerbated when the people, mandated to protect democracy, are also involved in crime. Crime at higher levels of society, by people in positions of power and trust – governmental as well as non-governmental -- is far more devastating than the most barbarous crimes committed by the criminals among the poor. Poor people commit crimes against individuals; powerful people commit crimes against society that lead to large scale ruin and destruction.

And when leaders violate the rule of law they give rise to a general culture of lawlessness. When we read daily of bribery and corruption committed by those in power – from the highest levels of government to the street level of the police force, we feel free to repudiate the rule of law or to take the law into our hands. So now in South Africa, we have the world’s highest incidence of rape – that includes the rape and murder of children and babies. These crimes as horrendous as they are, do not compare with the fraud committed at high levels that takes the food from the mouths of millions. With the general suspension of the rule of law in the country, we cannot trust the police; we cannot trust politicians, we cannot trust bankers; we cannot trust industrialists and businessmen. Power has replaced the rule of law.

A government that is entrenched, i.e. that knows that it can stay in power for the foreseeable future, will be a government in which the rule of law becomes a plaything to be manipulated. To keep a government somewhat honest, i.e., concerned about the welfare of citizens, is to keep it off-balance.

Once a government becomes entrenched, it has no need to be democratic; there is no challenge to its power – it has the votes of the majority; there is no need to deliver them from poverty.

The only way to keep a government off-balance is to keep it uncertain of its ability to maintain power. If it really needs our votes, it will make more of an effort to improve conditions of living, especially for poor people. But voting is a problem where race and ethnicity still rule the day.

At this moment (October 2013), there is an interesting development in the US. The Congress has shut down government on the grounds that it cannot endorse President Obama’s healthcare legislation. The Congress, presumably consisting of wealthy people, professes that government cannot afford to take care of its poor citizens. In other words, it cannot carry out its mandate of ensuring fraternity and equality – the prerequisites for individual freedom. It is a clear demonstration of democracy’s Achille’s heel – it relies on trust.

The words “liberty”, “equality”, “fraternity” roll easily off the tongue; but they are not guaranteed under “democracy”. Most societies with elected governments have to be content with liberty, equality and fraternity as regulated under the law when there is the rule of law; but when it comes to economic and social liberty-equality-fraternity -- the necessary complement to individual freedom -- the individual is on her own.

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EUSEBIUS McKAISER: A BANTU IN MY BATHROOM

EUSEBIUS McKAISER: A BANTU
IN MY BATHROOM

 

To write what he does, in the way he does, Eusebius McKaiser has to be a man who understands exactly who he is and what he believes. So he writes with a refreshing frankness, putting his experiences under the microscope and finding meanings that have given him a greater understanding and appreciation of the circumstances under which he lives.  As he is a South African, his insights help us all to hold the spotlight up to our attitudes and beliefs.

In A Bantu in my Bathroom, McKaiser shares with us his thoughts about many issues that concern us in South Africa today. His book is divided into three sections – Race, Sexuality and Culture, and he deals with controversial issues under each heading.

Under Race, he discusses the difference between racialism and racism, our understandings and misunderstandings of affirmative action and he takes up the assertion that blacks can’t be racist.

Under Sexuality he examines the issues of homophobia, rape and problems regarding the disclosure of one’s HIV status.

Under culture he illustrates the myth of the Rainbow Nation, examines people’s reaction to Brett Murray’s portrait, “The Spear”, and discusses what it means to be a “coconut.”

He presents all issues in terms of his personal experiences and that makes his book delightfully easy to read – despite the fact that it deals with deep philosophical issues.  It is such a pleasure to find an academic who is willing to step outside of his exclusive domain to converse with us ordinary mortals in a language we can understand.

In the last chapter “The funny revolution” he presents stand-up comedians as the real revolutionaries who, in disabusing us of our illusions and delusions, will carry us forward. If we don’t take ourselves so seriously, we have a better chance of making it into the future together.

And I agree with him.  A sense of humour is a sign of sharp, flexible intelligence and creativity. And why not have leaders who make us laugh and enjoy life?

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WHY HISTORY IS SO IMPORTANT

Empowerment

History is a vital form of empowerment. Studying our own history gives us a foundation for understanding who we are and where we are going.  Without knowledge of our history:

                               We are the hollow men
                               We are the stuffed men
                               Leaning together
                               Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
                                                        (from The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot)

I quote from T.S Eliot’s poem because I am a product of colonialism.   My “headpiece” being “filled with straw” i.e., a foreign culture, makes me a hollow person. That is why I quote from an English poet, not from a poet who is part of my people’s history. I am stuffed with European culture. And not being connected to my roots, I am a hollow person. I am a disempowered person and I belong to a disempowered people. 

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
                 (from The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot)

Without an understanding of my history, I will always be a disempowered person. I will always act without the backing of community, never fully understanding who I am.

Colonialists (Apartheid was a form of colonialism) understood very well the value of history.  They stuffed our heads with their histories and we came to depend on their cultures for the bases on which we stand. In adopting their culture, we lost our independence and looked to the dominant cultures to give meaning to our lives. We revered their culture, hankered after it, yet at the same time, we despised it for disempowering us. That is why we call black people who act like whites, coconuts. The truth is we are all coconuts. Coconut, for me, is the same as Eliot’s hollow people.

Even though we are coconuts, we could not be fully integrated into the dominant culture, so we became aware of and accepted our inferiority. That is why it is so easy to reduce us to stereotypes.

The study of our history, even if it is a history of colonisation, will give us back our power. In encountering the reality of the ways in which we were dominated, we will overcome the external hold on our psyches and we will make real progress.

Unity
Unity is strength. 
But as colonised people, we are divided within ourselves and against ourselves. Within our psyches, there is the constant battle between the desire for human dignity and the sense of inferiority imposed by a dominant culture. And this sense of inferiority manifests in a desire to relegate others of our kind to a status of inferiority – a kind of neo-class struggle.

All our ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, political and social groupings are in competition to prove their superiority over the others. And the more we think we approximate to the dominant group, the greater the conviction of our own superiority.

We have to understand and abandon notions of superiority and inferiority which are manifestations of the divide and conquer strategies of colonialism.

The study of the history of human experience, not simply a political history, which is what most history tends to be, but all history –
cultural, social, economic and political, will help us to identify the spuriousness of our assumptions. The study of history, built on all aspects of human experience, both of ordinary as well as powerful people, will help us to discover truths about our situation and to build the respect for one another that is a necessary condition for unity in a community.

Embracing our history requires an honest search and a
willingness to recognise the humanity of all those who live in our community.

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RAPE UNIVERSAL

RAPE UNIVERSAL

“rape” 
the word automatically connects
with brutalising acts of prurient sex
and we focus on the physical violation
images of blood, murder, mutilation
pierce our eyes with shame and horror
at the act of love turned to torture;
act essential for all life – perverted; 
all are sullied; all defiled;
all protest and demonstrate
against their vulnerability
against the depravity
against the hordes of men
for whom the penis is a weapon

but eyes wide shut, and in silence,
we give ourselves to raping violence  
everywhere, every minute of every day;
not individual, sexual, obvious rape;
but pervasive rape, persuasive rape
rape of the mind, rape of the soul
by those to whom we give control                                         

they smile at us from television sets
catching us in their commercial nets
conditioning us to getting and spending;
and in co-operation with big businesses,
assist in the economic rape of masses

politicians with smiling promises
once elected, forget their pledges
in the race to rake in the takings
of their positions of power;
corruption: the gang rape of voters
by political-industrial leaders 

all wars of invasion–intervention
nothing more than rapist abduction;
slavery, holocaust, foreign domination –
rapist signatures of power perversion;
war lords, militias, soldiers, celebrate
conquest and victory in subjugating rape;

powerful multi-national forces
plundering natural resources
raping the environment
decimating whale, rhino, elephant,
deforesting in wild abandonment
ruthless international plutocrats
shutting down earth’s thermostat

rapists of the upperworld
no different
from rapists in the underworld
abducting and trafficking
men, women, and children
to use, abuse and abandon

rape,
nurtured in all aspects of culture
produces
rabid rapists in every sector;
rape-murder predominant feature
of any country’s history –
making all of history,
primarily,
a record of rape and murder

penile rape
blatant expression
of truth in repression

 



 

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