Tag Archives: South Africa

traffic jamz.

I’m now the proud owner of an illegitimate Bafana Bafana jersey, purchased out of a trash bag in the backroom of an inconspicuous store somewhere in the CBD. I bought it for only R100, thanks to my South African (and more importantly, Zulu-speaking) photographer friend who accompanied me; mlungus obviously don’t fare too well on their own when it comes to getting a noteworthy deal.

Without the highlighter yellow jersey, I would have been horribly conspicuous at Thursday’s soccer game, where South Africa played Colombia at Soccer City stadium.

I’m not discounting the environment at the stadium, but the drive there was undoubtedly the best part. We joined a battalion of vehicles, all destined for Soccer City. A colony of ants, we approached the stadium from all directions. The resulting gridlock led anxious, excited and intoxicated revelers to move their celebration onto the streets. Fans rolled down their windows. With great gusto, they blew their vuvuzelas* and waved their South African flags. Restless passengers abandoned their vehicles and began running through the maze of cars, flags in tow. One driver decided that he couldn’t fight the urge and rushed for the nearest bush. And hooting musicians adopted a language of their own, creating a cacophony of song with their vuvuzelas.

Cars decided to disregard road signs, overtaking the lanes for oncoming traffic and making it virtually impossible for the stray car traveling in the opposite direction to get anywhere. Finally, we parked in a makeshift lot, manned by a self-appointed parking attendant who claimed a plot of land on the side of the road as his own. He charged each car R30 and must have made a decent amount of rand that night.

Soccer City stadium itself is gorgeous; its lit windows look like a constellation of stars against the night sky.  The environment at the stadium was also filled with great fanfare, as vuvuzelas blasted rhythmically and supporters chanted. As for the game, I was pretty clueless (Soccer 101, Faizan? k thanks). Bafana Bafana won, but I can’t tell you much more than this.

***

*The vuvuzela is a plastic trumpet, and some will also tell you it is South Africa’s not-so-secret weapon at the World Cup. Actually, blowing it correctly requires more skill and technique than one would think (oh, stop it, you dirty-minded masses). When successfully blown, it emits a loud disconcerting foghorn-type sound that—anywhere else—would make me want to rip my ears off. But at South African soccer games, it’s AWESOME. There’s also nonsensical talk of banning them at the World Cup based on claims that they can be distracting for players, coaches and referees. Supposedly, they can also damage hearing. Still, I say it’s worth the risk. So what if World Cup goers slam Fifa with lawsuits for damaging their hearing? (Yes, Fifa is legitimately concerned about this.)

At the 2009 Confederations Cup, Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso requested that Fifa ban the noisemakers:”Those trumpets? That noise, I don’t like. It is not distracting, but it is not nice to have a noise like that.”

My personal suggestion: Alonso, wear earplugs.

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the bike hospital.

Today, I saw a bike hospital. An interesting concept, I thought. Sadly, it looked more like a bike mortuary than anything else, with a 10-foot mountain of bike parts—wheels, handlebars and pedals—piled in front.

Jozi is now home, in many ways. I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine, exploring the city and discovering my favorite spots, like SIX, the “addictive” restaurant-bar-lounge on Seventh Avenue, and Picobella, where all the waiters wear Italia football jerseys (although I have my doubts about whether any of them are actually supporters). But I’m becoming acutely aware of the fact that my time in Mzansi is nearing its end.

And, as always, I’ve already begun pondering what I’ll miss, the moments that I’ll carve out as the highlights of my time in South Africa. In fact, what I’ll miss most are not discrete moments. Instead, it’s the ease with which I’ve had conversations with complete strangers. I’ll miss the lack of inhibition among others, who freely ask questions and voice their own opinions without bothering to censor their statements.

While I am proud to call myself an American (and unfortunately the one verse I know of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is now playing on repeat in my mind), there are certain aspects of America that I would readily trade in. And one of them is the way that, on a crowded downtown Chicago street, pedestrians are still often oblivious of those around them.

I remember walking the streets of Dar es Salaam, shoulder to shoulder on the crowded pavement.  My fellow travelers and I never acted like complete strangers. Instead, we traded smiles frequently, making eye contact with each other instead of staring off into an invisible abyss.  So naturally, when I returned to the US, I fruitlessly continued in my efforts to make friendly eye contact with passersby, a faint smile on my lips. But the eye contact was awkward and the smiles weren’t returned, as if the act required excruciating effort—like currency, not to be wasted. But here in Jozi, I find that smiles, thankfully, aren’t treated like they’re in short supply. And I’ll miss this, the way strangers often chant “hello”—and sometimes “sawubona.”

Yesterday, I ventured into Fordsburg, now one of my favorite areas in the city. It’s Joburg’s equivalent of Chicago’s Devon Avenue and Houston’s Hillcroft, but way better—partly due to the Bollywood music constantly blasting in the background. We began at a street market, where I found everything from the standard commodities, like pirated DVDs of Bollywood movies, to more illustrious finds, like fabulous behl puri for only R7 (the equivalent of one dollar).

I also searched for a beauty salon, as my eyebrows were in dire need of grooming. We found a few but after spotting only male beauticians at work, I assumed that these “beauty salons” were barbershops of sorts. So I kept walking. Three beauty salons later, I realized that the hair removal industry in Fordsburg must be dominated by men, as my quest to find a female beautician remained unsuccessful. I finally picked a male-dominated beauty salon and ventured inside. Here, I found the only female beautician I’d encounter in Fordsburg (After spotting my untamed eyebrows, she asked if it was my first time—ouch). Sisi, my roommate, hovered nearby, both confused and amazed by the concept that thread could extract hair. All in all, it was the highlight of the day.

We also stumbled into a prayer shop and an art gallery filled with amazing pieces of Arabic calligraphy. And although much of the artwork is currently unaffordable based on my nonexistent income, I vowed that someday I’d own something from Maroun’s. We ate dinner at Bismillah Restaurant, where I ordered a disappointing plate of butter chicken (the fact that it was listed under “English Dishes” should have tipped me off). I didn’t love it but I packed it to go anyway, and then I subsequently accidentally left it in what is now most likely a curry-scented taxi. Bummer.

Fordsburg, check.

halaal easter eggs.

Riaad Moosa. I’m obsessed, admittedly because he’s funny, South African AND Muslim and well, I think that’s a rather rare combination. In the spirit of embracing embedded links, I’m including his here: www.riaadmoosa.co.za. Unfortunately, it doesn’t currently provide much information, as it’s undergoing “cosmetic surgery” (okay, not his best joke). YouTube him (I would if I could. Unfortunately, my efforts to limit my megabyte usage prevent me from Google-ing, YouTube-ing, Twitter-ing, Facebook-ing and er, stalking him myself). Moosa performed stand-up at City Press’ Official Launch Party two weeks ago. I would try to retell his jokes, but my memory is failing me. I do, however, recall laughing out loud several times, specifically after some crack about halaal Easter eggs (hence, the title of this post).

Speaking of City Press’ launch party, it was perhaps one of the swankiest events I’ve ever attended, although that doesn’t say much. First, it’s heartening to be at a newspaper that’s not at the cusp of bankruptcy, the fate so many U.S. newspapers have faced. The newspaper is in the midst of launching a re-design, with the first edition of the revamped newspaper to hit stands tomorrow, May 2! Our newsroom has even recently been renovated, equipped with brand-new LCD screens and striped orange chairs, which aren’t as horrendous-looking as they might sound. So while most U.S. newspapers are downsizing, it’s refreshing to be at a newspaper that’s seemingly far from it.

Secondly, I’ll officially declare my love for almost every single one of my co-workers. My favorite part of this experience so far has been having the opportunity to meet the people I’ve met and having the conversations that I’ve had—about everything from how the fall of communism is the “worst thing that could have happened for South Africa” (an argument I don’t necessarily support) to how Zulu men—traditional Zulu men, my co-worker clarified—dish out the best pick-up lines. Unfortunately, the melt-ability of their sweet-nothings are lost in translation: “You’re so beautiful you look like you bathe in milk” and “You’ve caught me somewhere between my heart and my stomach” probably wouldn’t sweep me off my feet when purred in English. Bummer.

***

The American accent is obviously a dead giveaway (99 percent of the time. One man had no clue that I wasn’t originally South African). So when strangers discover that I’m an American student interning in South Africa, the first question I usually get is none other than, “So, what do you think of South Africa?” or some variation of this question. It’s quickly becoming one of my least favorite queries, ranked just behind “What kind of music do you like?” I feel like my interviewer is looking for something really profound and philosophical, and I’m in no position to offer anything Hobbesian. So my plan is to memorize some rote answer. And I’m currently fielding suggestions.

papa-paparazzi.

Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League, is quite the character, to say the least. He’s the fodder of many front pages and almost everything out of his mouth ends up in the news—often for all the wrong reasons. In his most recent press conference today, he lambasted a BBC reporter, asking security to remove “that thingy” from the ANCYL’s media briefing. And Malema managed to squeeze in the insults “bastard” and “bloody agent” before the reporter packed up and left.

This isn’t the first time Malema’s free-wheeling, absurd antics have gotten him prime-time coverage.  He recently resurrected a protest song from the Apartheid era, entitled Ayesaba Amagwala, meaning “The Cowards are Scared.” It contains the lyrics aw dubul’ibhunu, meaning “shoot the boer;” the song (not surprisingly) has drawn criticism from many sides. A court accused Malema of inciting racial hatred and banned him from singing the song. Despite the court’s ruling, Malema doesn’t plan on stopping: “This is the court ruling of the white men in South Africa but we are not going to obey it,” he argued.

And if you need more proof of the ridiculousness of some of Malema’s statements, here’s an excerpt from his recent speech to a rally of 2000 Zanu-PF youth in Zimbabwe. Enjoy.

“We want the mines. They have been exploiting our minerals for a long time. Now it’s our turn to also enjoy from these minerals. They are so bright, they are colourful, we refer to them as white people, maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us can get opportunities in these minerals we can develop some nice colour like them.”

An editor tells me, “People love talking about Malema.” And they do—heck, I’ve just rambled about him for a good four paragraphs. But is that reason enough to grant him a significant amount of real estate in local newspapers? Are we, as journalists, pandering to his whims by printing every foolhardy word out of his mouth? Are his statements really newsworthy? I argue that we’re adding fuel to the fire, granting Malema a sense of legitimacy that he does not deserve.

***

In Johannesburg, we toured Soweto, a large township just outside the city. It’s home to roughly two million people, according to a researcher at the local Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (As I’ve come to learn in South Africa, pinning down more precise numbers is virtually impossible). In Soweto, there’s a large Anglican Church, attended by upwards of one thousand parishioners.

Former President Bill Clinton attended the church when he toured South Africa during his presidency, soon after the Monica Lewinsky scandal had run its course. In an unfortunate coincidence, the priest had decided to prepare a sermon on the immorality of infidelity, with the disgraced president in attendance.

What I think I know about journalism in South Africa.

The journalists we’ve spoken with have alluded to the sense that South Africans don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the African continent. And therefore, there’s often a scarcity in the amount of information about the rest of the region, and more broadly, Africa as a whole.  Journalists joke about the perception among South Africans that “news stops at the Limpopo River.”

Paula Fray, at the Inter Press Service’ South African branch, noted that the background, the context and the analysis is often missing in articles that are published by local media outlets.

She says that journalists, paid pennies in comparison to the already-measly salaries of journalists in the United States, don’t have the time, motivation or energy to take their stories one step further, and this means reporting is often based largely—if not solely—on press releases.

As she described her version of the state of journalism in South Africa—and throughout the continent as a whole—a knowing smile tweaked my lips. Only because I felt like I could already relate to her frustration. I’d seen it first-hand, in Dar es Salaam and to a lesser extent in Nairobi, where reporters eagerly rushed back to the newsroom to file their stories on time in order to ensure that they would receive their daily commission. Sometimes, this was before my sometimes-overly-critical (and overly ambitious) self thought they had the whole story. I also remember journalists unabashedly accepting brown envelopes.

The first time a government employee handed me a brown envelope at a press conference I had no clue as to what it concealed. In my naiveté, I expected to open it and find another press release. Instead, a note for 10,000 shillings fell out (calm down, it’s only the equivalent of about $10). Still, this wasn’t chump change to either my fellow reporters or me, as I considered the forty to fifty journalists who had just filed out of the room, each with a parchment-paper envelope in hand. Although math has never been my forte, I calculated that the government had just doled out approximately $500.

My fellow reporter explained the obvious—the 10,000 shillings were meant as a bribe of sorts, a tool to encourage journalists to publish articles “favorable” to the government. But I didn’t understand why.  After all, it had been a rather uneventful press conference, held to announce the percentage of aspiring teachers who had passed the necessary exams; why the need to offer a bribe? I never quite figured it out, but this wouldn’t be the last time someone offered me an envelope.

On the eve of Day One at City Press, I wonder what I’ll discover about the state of journalism in South Africa.

And no, I didn’t accept the bribe.

Joe.

At the District Six Museum, Joe discussed his Apartheid experiences. It’s the closest I’ve come to hearing anyone’s first-hand account of what Apartheid really meant for them. For Joe, it meant that he would be relocated to an area several kilometers away from the place he once called home. It meant that when he returned decades later, home still wouldn’t feel like home.

Joe, born in Cape Town’s District Six, described it as a vibrant community during his childhood, a diverse area in which all creeds, cultures and religions were equally respected. Although his own family was Christian, they would observe moments of silence during Muslim prayer times, as the adhaan, resonating from the local mosques, called Muslims to prayer.

Then, when the National Party was voted into office in 1948 on the platform of apartheid, a series of acts severely limited the freedom of those in this formerly cosmopolitan community. The 1966 Group Areas Act declared District Six a whites-only community. It ushered in a period during which more than 60,000 coloreds and blacks were forced to relocate to areas like the Cape Flats, on the far outskirts of the city.

Racial segregation meant that there were separate benches for blacks and whites. It meant that if a Xhosa man lay in the middle of the street, unconscious, he’d lie there until an ambulance specifically designated for blacks came to his rescue.

In the area Joe relocated to, there weren’t many facilities. Parents continued to work near their former residences, and this meant long commutes to and from work. They arrived only in the late hours of the evening, toting bags of groceries. And well, “idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” So children, unwatched and unattended, became involved in drugs, crime, gangs.

Joe says people were brainwashed. Brainwashed into believing they were different because of their skin color.

I watched as a man, perhaps in his 70s, with long graying hair and a cane in hand, squinted as he peered at the museum’s floor. He seemed to be looking for something. At first, I assumed he must have dropped his pen, a piece of paper, a coin. But a large map of the old District Six is plastered on the floor of the museum, and he remained hunched over it, tracing the streets with the end of his wooden cane. He seemed to be searching, inching his way to intersections. I wondered if he’d once called District Six home. I imagined the kind of life he might once have led in District Six. Had he once lived on Aspeling Street? Or Van de Leur Street? Did he have brothers or sisters? I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

Joe tells me that he’s moved back to District Six since he was forcibly removed. I ask him what it was like, coming home after so many years. He tells me that District Six doesn’t exactly feel like home anymore, that it takes thirty to forty years to foster a sense of community, and that he doesn’t have that much time left. 60,000 people were removed when their homes were burned down, and only about 5,000 have made their way back. Many are reluctant to return because their children have never called District Six home. The people, the houses, the churches and the hangouts that Joe once associated with District Six have all since disappeared. For Joe, home isn’t home.