Friday, 22 May 2015

South Africa: Ever writing a better story of our own lives

Going Uber with boldness
As I grew in confidence to get around Johannesburg, I abandoned the overpriced taxi services offered by my hotel and took to the use of UberBlack which is the high-end luxury chauffeur service of Uber.
One of the inconveniences of hailing a taxi cab by Uber was that it always pointed to the address next-door and I had to edit that address every time before putting in my destination. I still feel the Android app for Uber is still in need of updating to give it a better and more intuitive user experience.
When my rides arrived, I still had to look out for the model of car, the number plate and then the identity and name of the driver. It would have been more helpful to include the colour of the vehicle too.
A memorable Uber ride
Of the many rides I had on Uber, there was one that remained quite memorable in my mind, I mostly sat in front with the driver and started off a conversation about how they were, how their day has been and then I told them I was visiting from the UK and we just talked.
On this occasion, it was a late night ride and as we began to converse, he talked of an event in his life when his fiancée left him and he thought it was the end of his life. He was sad, depressed and literally abandoned hope.
Then he came to, he thought about what might be in 10 years’ time if he did meet the lady who broke his heart again. Would she be glad that she left him? Would he be glad that she left him? Would they both be glad that they had moved on with their lives in a productive and positive manner?
That brought him to the conclusion that he had to do the best for himself and hope for another chance in love and happiness. And so he finished his studies, found a new lover, built a family and he is now as happy as he can ever be.
Ever writing a better story
What struck me about this was that without him knowing, he had already written a better story about his own life, as we all try to write our own versions of a fairy tale that has the final line of ‘they lived happily ever after.’
As I have written many times before, our lives are stories, we can decide how we want those stories written by the way we face the issues and life and hopefully find that strength to come through adversity to a better place.
Sadly, many never get to write a continuing story with a happier ending for all sorts of reasons and it does not make their story less a human story, but in sharing our own stories in our own voice, we might just be the voice and the encouragement that gives the other person, the faith, the hope and the support they need to see beyond the hills, see beyond the clouds and press on to a brighter day.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

South Africa: A land not at ease

Unease in the land
There are many things I have wanted to write about my recent trip to South Africa, many of which are quite unsettling because I did not see a country at ease with itself.
Rather, in all that on the surface would have looked like a thriving society, there was an underbelly of lack, penury, poverty and destitution.
To say the country is not in a state of constant civil unrest is to ignore the fact that there are so many strikes and protests with the sad reality that very little seems to be in place for arbitration or conciliation.
The protests seem to have a militant strain and in the two weeks that I was in South Africa, at least two protesters lost their lives to police gunshots, the police having been overwhelmed to the point that they could not retreat but attack the protesters.
Riot in the camps
The thought that civilians will die at the hands of the security forces in black majority rule South Africa in 2015 is sad, especially after the Marikana killings where 41 striking mineworkers also lost their lives at the hands of the police in 2012, leaving us to draw parallels with the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.
I felt dreadfully sorry for the fact that one can begin to draw these kind of comparisons along with the fact that the leadership seems to be rocked by scandals from all ends compromising the independence and impartiality of institutions necessary to protect the hard-earned democracy of South Africa.
I will hate to think things are coming apart at the seams, but with the recent xenophobia attacks, a lack of appreciation of history and the rise of reactionary politics used to distract the people from the failings of their leaders at the centre, we have another country with great potential that risks never being realised because it has no leaders to lead the country in mind and purpose to the “Promised Land”.
Failed on the streets
Those who live in shacks on land they risk being driven from by whim or capriciousness and those who live in well-secured compounds that boast signs of “Armed Response” as part of their security response arrangements speaks more beyond what meets the eye.
The yawning chasm between the haves and have-nots will not be bridged in a generation and probably not in many generations if South Africa is to endure the rent seeking leadership it currently has.
The African National Congress (ANC) has taken the people for granted for so long that they seemed to have lost purpose or direction. Without a doubt, it is time for the people to begin to consider alternatives, the alternatives with their interests in mind.
If change is to come to the people of South Africa and unite them in common purpose, they need greater men than these at the helm, people in the stature of Nelson Mandela or who like F. W. de Klerk realised change had to come and like Desmond Tutu who stands as a Colossus in humility and humanity. The men in charge do not have the least it takes to do the latches of the shoes of these mentioned great men of history.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

South Africa: On leaving and the goodbyes I sadly didn't get to make

As much and much else
Much as there is still much to write about my just under 2-week visit to South Africa and much as there is a lot of making up to do when I get back home, I have commenced my return leg back home.
The return journey will be from Johannesburg to Cape Town to The Netherlands and then to England, to be completed in just about 30 hours.
Much as I accomplished much of what I came here to do and much as I hardly had a social life for the duration of my stay apart from a moments I caught with friends that I was unable to make happen again. I regret not being able to make time for more engagement, it was just lots of hectic days that at the end of the day your returned and crashed out.
Face up
On checking out at the hotel, I still had credit left that was given to me as change, the clerk at the desk had such as glum disposition that appeared to add insult to injury after all that I had endured in the first week of my stay, I was not disposed to rewarding such sullenness with any generosity and she probably deprived her other colleagues of something too.
The hospitality business is one where being able to man a desk is the first of many qualifications and the unquantifiable parts are a welcoming, smiling, appearing to be helpful, considerate and engaging personality. Get those wrong and having lost the opportunity to make a good first impression, any other impression will be graded on the scale of the failed first attempt that only the extraordinary can attempt at redemption.
I will be visiting this hotel where I stayed for 13 nights on Trip Advisor, I know I will not return to this hotel or any under this chain, nor will I recommend it to anyone visiting Johannesburg, it was my lesson in tolerable endurance.
Thank you
To get to the airport, I had one of three choices, to allow the hotel book one of their exorbitantly priced taxis, get the shuttle to the Gautrain station where I could board the high-speed train to O R Tambo International Airport or hail UberBlack on my phone and have that service get me to the airport. After very little consideration, I went for the third option and had a pleasant ride to the airport.
As I bid Johannesburg farewell and consequently South Africa and Africa at large, this was an experience I was not particularly looking forward to, but when I leant in, it was one I will always remember. Some of the people I met will become great friends, people who made time and space for me welcoming me as guest with honour and respect, I owe much gratitude I cannot fully pay.
I might return to South Africa, I do not know, but my hope and wish for South Africa is and remains with all that I saw - 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika'.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

South Africa: The terrible history lessons we must know of Apartheid

Not on for a role reversal
I do try when I visit places even for work to get a feel of the place, the people, the culture, the architecture and the history.
However, on this sometimes hectic business visit, I have not been opportuned to do much, however, I got out on Saturday and then on Sunday where I did get to see some interesting parts of Johannesburg and what made this city,
The initial plan included a visit to Lion Park, where you can see lions roam free. It probably would have been interesting, but pictures of people in caged trucks thrilled at watching nature was a role-reversal I would better watch on National Geographic than participate in – I declined the offer of doing that.
Now, wildlife conservation is more than commendable, it is necessary and essential to ensuring that the footprints we leave in the sands of time are one of the record that we left this earth a better place than we found it. There is no doubt that parks like Lion Park need custom and will trade on our fascination to continue doing the exemplary work they do.
A differentiator on colour
My history and somewhat cultural lesson came from a ride with my hostess on the Johannesburg Red City Tour bus, between history, story, anecdote, fact and legend, a city built on the discovery of gold and diamonds could have dazzled with the glimmer and glitter of gemstones blinding us to a deeper reality that still defines a lot of what South Africa still is.
There was no better place to scratch beneath the gleam than at the Apartheid Museum where to give an idea of the colour bar in the Apartheid times I was given a ‘random’ classification of “Nie-Blankes” or “Non-Whites” and was by that designation supposed to enter the museum complex through the gate meant for non-Whites.
 
At the non-Whites entrance of the Apartheid Museum.
The absurdity of this whole arrangement became evident when you realise that whilst I am non-White, I am definitely European. To think there were times in Africa where people not historically indigenous to Africa treated Africans as sub-human on African soil, just cuts to heart with great pain.
Chameleons of discalm
The fact that this Apartheid regime was put in place by seemingly enlightened, educated and intelligent people just goes to show that certain elements of basic human instinct are defined by the utterly irrational to the point of risible ridiculousness. Yet, fellow human-beings were subjugated, denigrated, oppressed and dehumanised in ways too unimaginable to countenance.
At the stroke of a pen, within the Apartheid framework, you could be racially reclassified for purposes of convenience except the extreme of white becoming black or black becoming white. People who changed race in this many were known as chameleons.
The Star of the 21st of March 1986 published a piece that now appears with on a poster in the museum – the news piece started thus: 1985 had at least 1000 “chameleons”. More than 1000 people officially changed colour last year. [Google]
 

The Chameleons of South Africa at the Apartheid Museum.
The example of people
Prominent within the museum were exhibitions of people who transcended this vile aberration of humanity, whose lives we must study as examples of the graciousness and accommodating qualities of the human spirit. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – there are few people who can stand in stature and meaning close to these men in humility, reasonableness and compassion.
We must be careful never to lose the reality of history and the lessons thereof for the easy talk and ignorance of dismissing the significance of history to our present and future. I still see the scars left by Apartheid in contemporary South African society and I am afraid, I see no men in leadership doing much to lift the majority from the mental enslavement that remains the in the wake of the Apartheid rule that was abolished 21 years ago.



South Africa: Getting under some rich Johannesburg skin

Sandton
Having been emboldened to go out on my own, I caught a hotel taxi ride to the Sandton Convention Centre where I had been told I could go to Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton City shopping centre. Sandton is a contraction derived from the names of the suburbs of Sandown and Bryanston.
The concept of a convention centre, I fully understood, but I failed to grasp the essence of the square, because rather than see an open square as one would have expected of square, plaza, place or piazza in Europe, I saw a building. I was not daring enough to ascertain if within the walls of this place a square might indeed exist, I have since found out, one does.
I then circumnavigated the area only to find a stark contrast between the affluent wide roads in the front to the quite different gathering areas at the back. I eventually made it round to the entrance of the Sandton Gautrain Station where I decided to travel down to Rosebank Gautrain Station instead.
Rosebank
This station had stretches of shopping malls adjacent to the train station, it was easy to walk around this Rosebank area and find your way using the touchscreen information boards, the shops had brands I was familiar with, from Nando’s to Dr Martens.
The shop attendants were helpful, constantly smiling and even when technology failed them in the Dr Martens shop, they did not allow their seeming frustrations to dampen their customer service. I was quite impressed with the Dr Martens staff wearing sexy Dr Martens boots and shoes, that itself had its attractive quality.
One other snippet of trivia I have just learnt as I do when writing my blogs is that Nando’s is really a South-Africa export that started in Johannesburg in 1987. Who’ll have thought that?
People
In general, I have found South Africans quite friendly, from the people at my hotel where one of the ladies appears to view me quite suspiciously through to my colleagues, many of whom I have interacted with for over a year by email and telephone conversation until we finally met here.
Despite the earlier difficulties, people deep down are affable, wonderful and good. The conversations on UberBlack rides are just as amazing as with anyone who through driving meets with people with all walks of life.
From ordinary people to extraordinary people, our humanity on this global village can bring out the best in us.