Thursday 31 December 2015

2015: My year in blogs

Bringing up a year in review
My blogging year has not been as prolific as I would have liked it to be. In the year that I marked both twelve years of blogging and my golden jubilee, I have barely written a blog for every two days.
This is not for the want of something to write, a lot happened in 2015 that would have elicited opinion and fed inspiration, but lethargy, Writer’s block and much else has militated against getting things out as one would have liked.
Yet, the year has not been without event and these are some of the highlights.
In January, I learnt of the passing of a good friend and mentor, John Coll, he had died just before Christmas, then as I celebrated landmark birthdays of friends, Kola Akinola and Bisi Alimi, the news broke of the coming out of Kenny Badmus and his struggles with melding his sexuality with societal demands in Nigeria.
However, the highlight must be with regards to Kenny Badmus’ wife, there was a need to see things from her own perspective and the others affected too. Then someone left a comment that she had passed on, leaving me with questions – How did she die? Did she know Kenny Badmus was HIV+ through their relationship? What will become of many women unwittingly married to men on the down-low?
In February, I was in the midst of changing hospitals and hence doctors, my impressions compared to what I experienced in the Netherlands made it look like I have returned to the Victoria age.
However, I returned to another theme in my blogs, childhood experiences reawakened by recent events, things we seem to have left in the recesses of memory until situation or occasion brings them back to the fore. Children have deep life-changing experiences that parents sometimes fail to notice, or when they do, they fail to act appropriately leading to catastrophic consequences.
In March, I had written 2,500 blogs and then highlighted two instances of an entitlement complex in terms of anti-social behaviour and knowing how to seek help to getting the help needed.
However, Nigeria was in the grip of election fever and bringing out the worst of political acolytes, especially those with online newspapers who decided not to let the truth or the facts get in the way of a sensational story that suits their propagandist aims. It was shameful, dishonest and very sad.
In April, I took the opportunity to visit somewhere new, I went to Bucharest, the capital of Romania and it was an enlightening experience.
Meanwhile, the government in Nigeria was due to change hands, I could not help but address the real matter of Goodluck Jonathan being a good man.
In South Africa, Dr Dick continued the history of South African medical firsts. Dr Dick had performed a full penile transplant and reports were, it was functioning as required.
Yet as the UK prepared for a general election, it was the Ukip claims about refugees costing the NHS and their atrocious besmirching of the dignity of Bisi Alimi that called for a more human face beyond this rottenness.
Bisi Alimi went to Nigel Farage’s constituency, spoke to people and went on the street to hug people, putting a human face on the elections. The end result is, Nigel Farage did not win the election, we can say, thanks to Bisi showing up.
In May, it was angst and much else, the feuds amongst kith, disagreements escalated to the point that one decided to disconnect.
However, it was my first visit to Africa in a quarter of a century reluctantly, I went to South Africa on behalf of my client company, I cannot say I enjoyed the experience and we achieved little in the end.
In June, I found myself reflecting on many things, on finding love, on a lived experience and my expectations of old-fashioned values today.
Caitlyn Jenner took the world by storm by declaring herself transsexual, with that came a campaign to repudiate all she had achieved before as a man. That, I thought was a rotten and wrong-headed campaign, we cannot wipe away the achievements of our past just because our present circumstances have changed.
In July, I guess I have not written many political blogs in 2015, but I could not help but flesh out the piggyback exculpation device deployed by the Nigerian ex-Minister of Petroleum Resources on the matter of her alleged corrupt activities.
However, with the refugee and migrant crisis at our border with France in Calais, one story could not be ignored, Mouaz al-Balkhi and Shadi Omar Kataf from Syria, saw the deceptively close white cliffs of Dover from Calais, donned wetsuits and jumped into the English Channel.
Their bodies were discovered on beaches of the Netherlands and Norway. They to me illustrated the sense of desperation people had to seek a better life away from war and destruction in their homelands.
In August, back to my childhood and issues with difficult relations with family, the unspoken and more of the really unspeakable. There were blogs I had planned to write on the content of Dr Atul Gawande’s 2014 Reith Lectures, one of which was on charting your own course.
However, it was the matter of identity and the requirements others place on us to identify in a particular way that got me writing about what some artist said about Barack Obama not being ‘black’ enough.
In September, again, I found myself reflecting again on what I had become, my experiences defining who I am and more along those lines.
Yet, I had to remember more clearly when I did face death, just 6 years ago.
In October, I was already in the losing battle of writing as many blogs as I wrote the year before, I only managed to write 8 in this month and really, I wonder if there was much significant to highlight in that month.
Maybe, putting context into my typical working day or working life is worth looking at.
In November, I returned to South Africa and it was a much better experience, I simply found ways to cope and made the best of the situation. Back to family and my own struggles on that account.
I had some thoughts on Sharm el-Shiekh, but in Nigeria the plight of children, the need for autopsies and we just need to get the issue of sexual assault properly accounted for, before the law, for the victims and against the perpetrators.
In December, with many celebrations as 12 years of blogging, my 50th birthday, World AIDS Day and my experiences in South Africa.
On South Africa, many things were not right, yet, there were stories so compelling told in the experience of Tom Moses as an inmate of Robben Island.
However, my views of South Africa all came down to one word, Rubbish!
And So
I may not have identified a theme in my year of blogging, but I opened up about many things in my life, celebrated struggles and triumphs, all with gratitude and thankfulness at the many opportunities I had to tell my own kind of story.
I hope 2016 brings a more rewarding year of happiness, health, wealth, success, blessing, friendship and love.
Have a wonderful, happy, prosperous New Year.

Barcelona: On the trail of Gaudi's genius

Overcoming the fear of flying
I first visited Barcelona some 18 years ago, it was with my partner and it was an amazing experience. My partner then, a design engineering major had things he wanted to see, for me, it was one of discovery.
This was a time when I was trying to overcome my fear of flying, a strange development that took hold over a couple of years, for no particular reason I could explain. I was used to flying from childhood and at many times travelled alone even before I was in my teens.
However, this flight was quite a pleasurable one, I was sat between a father and son who had come over from Australia. The father had emigrated to Australia about 40 years before and now, he had brought his son who was born in Australia to Europe for the very first time and they were doing a modern sort of grand tour.
Gaudi’s Barcelona I learnt
I guess it was the engagement and conversation that took my mind off the fact that we were in the air and in the process, I somewhat defeated my irrational fear of flying.
In Barcelona, for the first night, we walked up a major street and passed an interesting building that seemed to have an eerie living quality about it, little did I know that it was a landmark building, I later learnt it was Casa Batlló and with that I was introduced to the architectural genius of Antoni Gaudí I Cornet.
From a knowledgeable perspective, Antoni Gaudi as he is commonly known was an early proponent of the Art Nouveau movement and particularly what is referred to as the Catalan Modermisme movement. However, to the untrained eye, meaning those who are essentially not architects, we have a different appreciation of these works, the aesthetics, the design and the appearance of buildings and other forms just show an exceptional quality of inspiration and workmanship unmatched.
A madman genius
When Antoni Gaudi received his diploma, the supervisor who granted his the title of architect wrote, “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.” Suffice it to say that seven of Antoni Gaudi’s buildings all in Barcelona have been listed as World Heritage Sites.
Then we were only able to access Casa Milà, Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, at that time, Palau Güell and Casa Batlló were not accessible to the public. Now, literally all the Gaudi properties have a form of access for the public to appreciate the work and genius of Antoni Gaudi.
Sagrada Familia, I have visited twice and both times before it was consecrated into a basilica in 2010. Work commenced on this church in 1882 and work is still in progress sponsored by anonymous donations made towards the building and the upkeep. The first time, I went up the bell towers, the building was fascinating but not such a tourist pull as it is now.
No hurry
Of the time it will take to complete the project, Antoni Gaudi said, “My client is not in a hurry, God has all the time in the world for this to be completed.” It is likely, it will take more generations before the work is finally completely.
Yet, on this my fourth visit to Barcelona, I find myself on the Gaudi trail again, with a better appreciation of the uniqueness of this amazing genius, gifted beyond measure and whose life tragically ended as a result of being run over by a tram.
There is much to Antoni Gaudi’s work and legacy, the fact that he defied convention and boldly took strides that were somewhat unpopular, then there was Eusebi Guell, an industrialist who was a patron and sponsor of his work. He championed some of Gaudi’s listed works being respectful of the talent and a very good friend of the man.
The Gaudi trail cannot be done in a hurry, beyond seeing, there is much to observe. You cannot have done Barcelona without seeing what its most famous citizen did in the city. Here is to more Barcelonas.

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Thought Picnic: Twenty Five Years from Nigeria

A decision for change
Twenty-five years ago today, I boarded a Nigeria Airways flight with a one-way ticket from Nigeria to England. It is strange that I came to such a decision in the space of not more than seven weeks.
As a partner in a desktop publishing firm, I had only returned from the UK, 4 weeks before, after a two-week business trip that was more than an eye-opener about the opportunities I could have in the UK.
Of the many exciting jobs I was doing in Nigeria, most of the people I sealed contracts with, gave me the comfort of appreciating the skill I brought to bear within their businesses and in that acknowledged that expertise with a commensurate and sometimes generous compensation.
A law onto himself
The one person I had issues with was an egotistical, megalomaniac of a lawyer who through whatever levers he was able to pull was a director of the United Bank for Africa and besides his legal practice had a traditional printing press, my role was to introduce desktop publishing to reduce the turnaround time from orders to finished product.
However, for all that was able to offer in that setting, for which I owned 30% of the company, he just could not get his head around the fact that I was half his age, never obsequious and though respectful, quite irreverent.
This caused unnecessary tensions between us that he callously took out on my staff that for me the situation became untenable. Beyond that, I had to run the gauntlet of rent-seekers who always thought they deserved a cut from contractual fees, for just knowing that I had won a contract and I was getting paid.
A tumultuous existence
In another area, I was being blackmailed for who I was, then elsewhere, people seemingly pulling strings on my behalf to continue my education in Nigeria, got them tangled in unexplained processes, it began to look like I could jettison everything I was doing in Nigeria and seek to start a new life abroad.
I guess, it all came to a head when my so-called partner threw money across the table towards me, I took exception to that disrespectful behaviour that I told him, “You don’t give a 24-year old 30% of a company and then think that is the pinnacle of achievement, I will throw it away and start all over again.” That is what I did.
The action plan
In the four weeks of December leading to my departure, I obtained the Entitlement to the Right of Abode, which took three weeks to obtain considering the waiting list for a full British passport was 18 months long, got my one-way ticket, handed over my contracts to my deputy and bid the people who mattered goodbye.
I had in two weeks towards the end of November during my visit to the UK, learnt that I had knowledge and skills for a market hungry for people who knew what they were doing. I could think of the number of times I demonstrated the utility of a product to sales staff who were supposed to know better.
How I viewed it
On that day, the 30th of December 1990, I left home with a bag and probably about £20, gathered my closest friends who saw me off at the airport and waited to board my flight which was to take-off at 11:00 AM, it was delayed, we eventually lifted off at 3:00 PM.
In many ways, that trip meant different things to different people, and whilst their concerns were valid in the context of their opinions, mine was simply this, I am returning to the land of my birth, I am more comfortable in the England about what I know and can get a headway with that and that there was a future ahead of me, if I was determined enough to seize it.
Where my mind was
My arrival in England was met with conflicting advice from different quarters, however, I am happy that I joined up with a crowd that not only believed in me but did everything to encourage me in getting on my own two feet and making a successful life in the UK.
It is interesting that I left Nigeria with literally no sense of nostalgia except for certain cravings for the cuisine many years later. Yet, the truth is for all the time I spent in Nigeria, I was always treated like an outsider, in a way, I never followed any of the rules, the norms or the customs, invariably, it also meant I was excused from adherence in certain ways, except where elements of coercion came into play to force me to toe the line.
Of freedom and independence
The greatest freedom that came with my leaving Nigeria was the ability to stop the interference of many who seemed to hold sway over decisions I wanted to make. That sense of independence that came with leaving Nigeria and starting all over again has been a constant refrain in my life, either in moving countries or surviving cancer.
In all those years, I am thankful to all that have held me in their thoughts, in prayer, in action, in advice, in support, in friendship, in mentoring and many other innumerable areas. Things have not been perfect, but I cannot relive the past with a future ahead of me. I cannot live a different life from what I have now, but I can live what I have to the best of the abilities and blessings that come my way.
Chart your course and make it sure, then come back and tell a story.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

South Africa: Soweto too

Concluding South Africa
I left South Africa just over two weeks ago, but there is at least one last blog I needed to write about my visit to this amazing country. Though I was there for 25 nights, I was quite busy with work-related issues that there was very little time to do anything about discovering the country.
It was my third weekend before I made it to Cape Town and then I extended my stay in South Africa to allow for me to do the needful in Johannesburg.
On my first visit in May, I had done the basic bus tour stopping at the Apartheid Museum and the Constitutional Court, the option to go to Soweto was declined because we had to change from a double-decker bus to van, giving the impression we were about to visit a rather dangerous area.
Contemplating Soweto
You form so many impressions about Soweto and it is very likely that the township idea comes across as shanty towns, slums, rundown crime-ridden inner-city chaos that would endanger the bravest of angels.
I was determined this time to visit Soweto and see things for myself, I felt I had much more to gain by joining one of the more professional tour arrangements and with that having printed out my ticket, I made for the stop where I could board the Soweto tour bus. This was at Gold Reef City which was one of the first gold mines in South Africa before it has been transformed into an amusement park, museum and dangerously, a casino with hundreds of one-armed bandits.
A place that once brought money that was the stuff of dreams now takes hold of dreams of making money from the many whose dreams are a constant suspense and excitement of almost but never getting fulfilled. Yet, I could not help but notice the ‘gun drop’, a kind of left luggage section for guns just before you enter the casino, make of that what you may.
The first sights
I boarded the first tour bus to Soweto and sat in the front with the driver Thabo, unlike the recorded playbacks of the double-decker city sightseeing bus, we had a personal guide to inform us about the tour. Our group comprised people mainly South African residents, but from countries are far away as China and Japan, the Japanese man lived in Durban.
Stopping first at Soccer City or the FNB Stadium, we took pictures and the edifice loomed as a big calabash celebrating Umqombothi beer and bringing back memories of the hit single by Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
Driving past the mine dumps which are a legacy of mining, Apartheid and toxic materials being exposed again with technological developments allowing for the dumps to be re-mined for gold. The more sinister view of the mine dumps was how it completely obscures Soweto from Johannesburg and vice versa.
A revelation
At the main road leading into Soweto which is a contraption of South Western Townships, I stood at the main sign and then learnt depending on you ask that Soweto is an agglomeration of over 85 townships, though about 34 are distinctly identified suburbs of Soweto.
Soweto is huge and vibrant, its architecture covers all strata of means, from the very upmarket parts of Diepkloof through the middle-class areas to the matchbox houses, shanty towns and shacks, and this was a revelation in itself.
The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital which was one time the world’s largest hospital complex, now the third, scale is sometimes towards the superlative in Soweto, the Bara Taxi Park is the largest in Johannesburg, the Orlando Towers are the cooling towers of a now defunct power station, all colourful and the site of social events including bungee jumping.
The memories and memorials
On to Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, the iconic photograph that signalled the beginning of the decline of Apartheid, the Soweto Uprisings and other stories with undertones rarely voiced. Suffice it to say many children of the chief agitators that sent people onto the streets had their kids in schools abroad, but let us not sour a well-crafted narrative for point-scoring. Apartheid was rotten, it needed to end.
Vilakazi Street which spots the old residences of Nelson Mandela and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu maintains a historical significance in the work these men did towards achieving black majority rule, yet this street is a commercial haven that has lost the solemnity and seriousness of the works of these great Nobel Peace prize laureates.
Everyone is here for a quick buck, performers organised and disorganised, photographers with instant print machines, shops with kitschy tat that could in the haze of tourist awe look valuably commemorative as souvenirs and much else, you are almost jostled out of appreciation of these landmarks.
I cry too for change
Yet, one cannot fail to see how what has been bequeathed is being squandered by the political heirs who now hold power. As we left Soweto, I prayed a little prayer that the promise that South Africa offered to those who suffered and still suffer soon become their reality. My fear of Soweto, put to one side, yet palpable from the obvious gaps between the have-yachts, the haves and the have-nots.
To the outsider that I am, there is much about this great land that leaves one with the story of Cry, the Beloved Country.

Monday 28 December 2015

Silk Blogs - Raymond Inkabi - The Tyranny of Happiness

A commemorative blog
December is always a significant month for me in terms of celebrations. 20 days ago, I reached another landmark of 12 years of blogging and a week ago, I turned 50.
I had considered marking these significant events by inviting friends to blog on my blog, but the attempt was half-hearted, besides the fact that since the 17th of November, I have only spent 4 nights at home, the rest has been on the road, for work and much else.
However, even that feeble call for contributions was heard by one of my social media friends who also contributed to the Decade Blogs of 2013, his commemorative piece then titled, Ten years of Blogging.
Raymond Inkabi, this time for my Silken Blog anniversary, using wedding anniversary terminology, writes on blogging as a purpose with the title The Tyranny of Happiness, I am happy and honoured to have him write for my blog again. He tweets with the Twitter handle @Alykka and writes his own blogs at

The Tyranny of Happiness
How we handle the now, defines what lies in the future and in the wine dark hollow belly of our immortal soul. Now how this soul is a place of internal play of tensions, struggles, indecision, writer's block, mood swings, anger, as much as a place of desire, peace, happiness, imagination and the writing of the self is one to be researched on.
To write blogs and then keep writing, displays a tension between two psychological positions: blogging to testify to an identity of (see, this is who I am) but also, blogging to bear witness to all who might want to listen to your story (see, this is who I am prevented from being).
Blogging is thus configured as a gateway that is, a route of escape in search for eternal fulfilment and inner peace. Which is found only embodied in our blogs which turn a playground, stage and laboratory, with the aim of producing and creating singular and multi-plural ways of the pursuit of happiness.
The shifting back and forth between writing and not writing, lies at the heart of our soul at a time in our collective history when new information technologies (social networks, commentary, art, philanthropies, what is and what is not, political correctness, exotic travels and saving the world) are reconfiguring our relationship to time, space and balance.
This indeed posits that we are not alone and Calypso in our domestic life, our life is pervaded with outside voices that come to inhabit and activate it, as if to find one’s voice, one had to first let oneself be taken over by the voices of others, as if one had to read the world before one could write it. And reassuringly, continues the blurring of the borders between to write and not to, interiority and exteriority, to tweet and not to tweet, follow and to unfollow, and "to be or not to be" - apologies Shakespeare, enabling each of us to fuse, superimpose, combine and separate those borders that hint of not just the inevitableness of a writer's block, but any block.
For Twelve years of blogging activity, makes it possible to activate and redefine one’s presence in the world, and serve as a powerful catalyst of forms to establish an identity.

Monday 21 December 2015

Akin Akintayo: My inexhaustible gratitude at 50

The unlikely beginning
This evening, I sit in my hotel room, my heart full of wonder and gratitude at the amazing story of an event that had the possibility of never taking place.
One Tuesday morning, in the witching hour, just after the weekend, a young couple in a foreign land that had moved house from a major city to an almost rural town had to visit the hospital because the wife was feeling a bit unwell. She was kept under observation whilst her husband was sent home with the advice that he did not have to worry.
He woke up at 7:00 AM that morning to a telegram that not only had he become a father and he was needed at the hospital to sign some papers to allow for the child to be taken to a hospital in a bigger city because the maternity ward did not have the facilities to keep the child alive for long.
The improbable situation
That became the first story of a child, no bigger than the full stretch of his father’s hand, as he set off to spend some two months in incubation and his mother returning to work that day, no one the wiser that she had been a mother. The celebration had to wait.
Then six years ago, in his prime, after excess and much else that makes the story of a soul that walks this earth, there came another great threat, at the end of a diagnosis of cancer was the very probability that he only had five weeks to live, another difficult incubation of adversity, loss and recovery redefined his perspective as a survivor again. The bigger celebration will have to wait.
The unexpected results
Yet, the day cannot pass without an acknowledgement of the grace, the mercy, the love, the thankfulness and the gratitude for what in my seemingly ordinary life is turning into an extraordinary story.
Each day counting up to year and decade and today, I find that the improbable, the unlikely, the unexpected and the unusual have gathered into my story to make the remarkable at least to me and to the very many who have contributed so significantly to the life I now celebrate.
There are influences in my life that have shaped my outlook, my philosophy and my thinking, for this season, I am like another nativity scene born into stringent circumstances and given the opportunity to survive and thrive. To God be the glory for this day and this life, for my eyes have seen such beauty and wonder beyond my wildest dreams, my heart has felt heavy and full, my body has borne pain and pleasure and my feet has walked the paths of hope and adventure to fulfilment time and again.
My inexhaustible gratitude
My parents, my siblings, my wider family of uncles, aunties, cousins, relations, my friends and friendships, my acquaintances, helpers, succourers, neighbours, the loves of my life present and departed, the memories and there are many, thank you for having me and seeing me as one of you, as you have been burdened with my frailties and congregated to celebrate my successes, I am honoured beyond words can suitably express.
May we all find better stories to tell beyond where we are and find in our pursuit of happiness the joy of living, the appreciation of things great and small, counting our blessings daily and being thankful for all things.
I present myself to you again, a man at 50. God bless you all.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

South Africa: Is this a black empowerment timebomb?

Conversations, many
South Africa offered me a variety of opportunities for meeting people, making conversation, but mostly, there was much to observe and from that as an outsider draw some conclusions about the society the country projects.
The most engagement was on my Uber cab rides to and from work, from the Gautrain station or out for social engagements. Of the probably 40 or so Uber trips I had, there was probably one uninteresting and disinterested driver, I should have sat in the back and occupied myself with a more interactive reading material, my eyes darting from left to right as I read.
Where our journeys were short, it was quite honorific to have the Uber cab drivers express the desire to meet me again so we could have a longer chat. By osmosis and general interest, I seemed to know a lot about South Africa and its current affairs, along with seemingly alternative viewpoints to the events that occupied the newswires in the time I was there.
Signs and realities
However, it appeared I was only getting one perspective of things until last Saturday I witnessed both an interesting and an alarming incident on the concourse of the Johannesburg Park Gautrain station.
I had just missed the opportunity to go on the Soweto tour and so returned to the station to take the train back to Sandton Gautrain station. At the entrance, I had already seen that the next train was in 29 minutes time, it meant I had just missed a train.
I could have loitered around the station, but there is a sense of safety once you are beyond the ticket barriers. The seating on the concourse is really a design malfunction, aesthetically pleasing to the eye but uncomfortable to sit on, the two metal slats are angled for slouching for the able-bodied and literally unusable for those with assisted mobility or any other kind of impairment or strength, age or nature.
Malfunction feeding resentment
What transpired was the electronic signals on the concourse were not updating to tell exactly when the next train would arrive. What I saw as 29 minutes at the entrance was reading a minute on the concourse and it did not change for minutes.
A white lady then made to ask one of the guards on the concourse when the next train would arrive, the guard indicated it would be about 26 minutes. She then when on to ask why the electronic sign was reading different from the expected time. The guard had no answers, but she suggested the lady check the timetable, a cleaner who was chatting to the guard before the white lady interrupted buttressed the point of the view of the guard.
At that moment, the white lady flared up and rudely told that cleaner that she was not invited into the conversation, and so she should mind her own business. At which point everyone else on the concourse waiting for the next train was alerted to the fact that this might degenerate into an unholy fracas.
This must be one of many
The guard trying to reason with this gradually obstreperous lady, tried to aver that the timetable took precedent if there were problems with the electronic indicators, somehow, the context of the problem took a strange twist when the white lady said, “No problem? We don’t run the country anymore and the very simple things you people cannot make work, everything is a mess.”
Now, that caught my attention as the white lady walked away in apparent irritation at not being taken more seriously and began talking across to the other platform in mock rage and annoyance as if there as someone else listening to her grievance. Well, there was no one there, it was a loud soliloquy looking like the onset of some mental disorder.
At which point, I surmised that this was pent-up Afrikaner resentment being let out, apparently triggered by the frustration of not being in control or being able to control, situation, event or direction.
This in my view could not be the only place where resentment was festering and ready to be blurted out at any sign of ineptitude, incompetence, misdeed or malfunction. In my over three weeks in South Africa I had seen much of this with the impunity, the contempt of institutions and the cack-handedness of the President in replacing the Finance Minister in the middle economic turmoil with a complete tyro, all for political expediency.
Distrust in the rainbow nation
The week before, a survey had suggested that South Africans of different races distrusted each other, there was very little social interaction between the races except in the workplace, in schools or in the shops. It goes without saying, that if there were people of the stature of Nelson Mandela in power with the requisite competence to run the government for the good of all South Africans, there would be little room for resentment.
Then, on my way back from South Africa, as we waited for the embarkation of our delayed flight, I got to talking with a couple that were off to Italy via Paris. They were travelling with three generations of the family, 11 in total, but grandpa and grandma were travelling business class and the others elsewhere.
They expressed frustration at the seeming rudderless direction of the government, the rapid decline in the value of the South African Rand and it was precipitous in the last week besides the fact that the Rand had lost 30% in value against the Dollar in the year 2015 alone.
Bantu education all over again?
However, what concerned him most was the affirmation action that was to encourage black empowerment and emancipation in South Africa. Now, the Bantu Education Act was a rotten Apartheid policy that provided not useful education to the black population as means of lifelong subjugation with no prospect of elevation in life.
There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the Dutch-born architect of Apartheid.
Yet, according to grandpa, during the struggle against Apartheid, the kids of the chief activists went to the best schools elsewhere, whilst the activists instigated the students left behind to burn their schools in protest and insurrection, leaving the students in the midst of the struggle bereft of education and consequently subjugated to the children of the activists who have returned to rule over the masses.
Marking up failures to pass through
He continued by saying, the affirmation system, whilst apparently giving opportunity to blacks to access education and qualifications, none of it appeared to test their aptitude, challenge their mental capacity or equalise their achievement with mainstream standards of education expected of anyone who has passed through an educational system from primary school through to the end of tertiary education.
He said many black South Africans in affirmation schemes were being given a full pass at 33% and conveyor belted through university to have a degree in three years whether they made the grade or not. Whilst I have no proof of this, on an anecdotal basis, I had seen many instances of people being trained and failing to perform when without direct supervision at hotels, in shops and elsewhere, it is concerning.
Dishonesty in presented qualifications
In my time in South Africa, after the scandal that broke in May when I was there that trains ordered from Spain for South African railways were not of the right specification, the speculation about the qualifications of the head of engineering of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was confirmed.
Dr Daniel Mtimkulu had not studied at the university he said he attended and was not registered with the engineering body that was supposed to validate the qualifications that made him eligible for the role he was in. There no asking how he scaled through the due diligence processes of the people who interviewed him and promoted him to the role he assumed until he was found out when a procurement process was bungled creating serious embarrassment for all concerned.
Likewise, at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the COO was found to have misrepresented his qualifications by a public prosecutor whose institutional responsibility of oversight and regulation was ignored that other parties had to seek orders from the courts that enshrined and supported the authority of the public prosecutor.
Yet, integrity and honour were left by the wayside as the system appeared to give support and succour to dishonesty and fraud in the face of incontrovertible facts.
It does not augur well, at all
All of this will give cause for resentment amongst South Africans, especially when those in power seem to forget the great responsibility of nation-building and unifying a nation bequeathed them by the likes of Nelson Mandela for the politics of expediency and a descent to hedonism and opulence at the expense of the majority of South Africans that placed confidence in their government bringing lasting prosperous change into their lives.
One is appalled to say the least and it simply corroborates what I wrote in another blog titled, South Africa: Rubbish!
There are many stories in South Africa, but if the decline by indifference and indolence of government egged on by comfort oblivious of duty and attention to the purpose for which they were called to serve continues, Zimbabwe will be nothing compared to the disaster that is looking like the charted future of South Africa on this avoidable trajectory.

South Africa: Tom Moses' Robben Island experience

Robben Island
Having gotten Table Mountain out of the way on Friday afternoon, I had the whole of Saturday to do Robben Island for many reasons, most especially to get a good idea of what Apartheid was to the people the system considered criminal, inferior, undesirable, radical or reactionary.
I had decided on making out for the first possible journey on Saturday and once again, it was possible to book a tour of the island online and print out the ticket to avoid long queues.
The UberBlack taxi I ordered took me to the other side of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and note it is Alfred the second son of Queen Victoria and not Alfred the consort.
After taken directions to the Nelson Mandela Gateway on the V&A Waterfront, I went through security and found myself boarding the slowest of the ferries (The Jester) to Robben Island.
A preamble
I knew that because Thandi appeared to be the fastest which passed us on the way out and on its return and Thembikile which I boarded on my way back, left Jester in its wake even though Jester left a good 15 minutes before. The Sea Princess was in the dock, but not in service on that day, or probably it was there to service VIPs.
Robben Island has at one time or the other been a war garrison, a prison, a leper colony and now it is a nature reserve, a World Heritage Site and a very popular tourist attraction which for its use as a prison in the Apartheid times gives it prominence in the history and the stories told during the tour.
They served an abhorrent system
On arrival at the Robben Island harbour and getting off the boat to board the bus that would first take us on a tour of the island before we went to view the prisons, I could not help but notice the obviously pretentious Auschwitz-like sign at the entrance. At Auschwitz, it was Arbeit Macht Frei, here at Robben Island, it was We Serve With Pride, also in Afrikaans.
They served the Apartheid System with Pride.

Of the stories I heard of man’s inhumanity to man coloured by race, prejudice and injustice, the fear authorities have of alternative thought that refused to be subjugated to inhumane and atrociously cruel and evil law, there was no service to humanity nor pride to be had in the what happened on Robben Island.
However, Robben Island and the experience of being incarcerated there created some amazingly remarkable men who took from that episode in their lives something that exemplifies the human spirit in forgiveness, reconciliation and leadership – prominent amongst such men is Nelson Mandela who died exactly two years before on the day of my visit to Robben Island.
Through the experience of Tom Moses
People were segregated on Robben Island according to race and the black race was treated the least favourably in incarceration, they were treated lower than dogs, issued with shorts rather and trousers, had no shoes, slept on mats on the floor rather than on beds and they did the most labour intensive work of quarrying by hand and building the prison blocks in which they were housed.
The bus driver and tour guide had relationships with Robben Island as relations of people who had been imprisoned on the island. I was sad beside an Australian lady and it was poignant as an Englishman visiting the old penal colony of Robben Island to remember there that the British once used Australia as a penal colony.
However, it was the story of Tom Moses, an inmate of Robben Island who was sent there at the age of 19, from the 3rd December 1976 to the 31st May 1985, for all sorts of contrived offences as terrorism, insurrection, anti-nationalist crimes and opposing Apartheid that left us numb with shock and a feeling of helplessness at what people might have experienced when Robben Island got its rotten reputation.
One of the buildings on the island was a church which is under the care of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu family, one could not help but notice the irony of it being named The Church of the Good Shepherd it was built by lepers in 1895.
Tom Moses, a personification of the greatness of the human spirit.

One of the buildings on the island was a church which is under the care of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu family, one could not help but notice the irony of it being named The Church of the Good Shepherd it was built by lepers in 1895.
The story endures
However, the most enduring experience of visiting Robben Island was not the non-venomous snakes, the big guns installed to protect the island in WWII, the penguins that nest on the shores of the island, the dog kennels I first thought were cells for human being, the captivating pictures we were privileged to take, Nelson Mandela’s old cell, but the human story told in the voice, the person and the eyes of Tom Moses.
On one World Heritage site looking onto another captivating World Heritage site.

In fact, it was the story told in the living experience of Tom Moses, I was both honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to hear his story, a story told without bitterness, full of forgiveness and more so, a willingness to show that the human spirit might travail in the worst possible circumstances and yet triumph in ways that will humble the most haughty of men.
On leaving the prison cells, I took my own short walk to freedom and reflected on what the day was, it left me full of admiration of those who took lessons from their Robben Island experience to make the world a better place and saddened at the thought that Jacob Zuma, the current President of South Africa, seems to have forgotten what that experience imparted to greater, more reflecting and more considerate men than himself.

South Africa: Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain first
As I got to Cape Town a Friday week ago, I was picked up at the airport by the chauffeur service I had ordered through my travel plans and made for my hotel.
Immediately after checking into my room, I looked out of the window and the backdrop to the horizon was the majesty of the Table Mountain, the side that looks like the table.
Going from the advice of the two pilots I met on my way to Cape Town, in the lounge and on the plane, I knew I had to get this event in as soon as possible.
Easy tickets and no queues
I did I quick web search and found that I could get my tickets online and possibly avoid the ticket queues at the place. I bought my ticket which appears to grant a 7-day access to the mountain.
The hotel kindly printed out my ticket and I called an UberBlack taxi to take me to the lower station of the cable car ride to the top of the mountain. Not knowing what to expect at the top of the mountain, I did my nature calls and then took the lift to the platform to await the cable car.
When the cable car arrived, there were just two seats in the centre at either side of the cable car driver, I took one as I tried to understand how the floor could be rotating and my still having the same view, I never figured it out.
Views only experience can explain
At the top of the mountain, I took in breathtaking views of Cape Town, beaches with turquoise coloured waters and much else that exemplifies the beauty of nature from a vantage point.
With my pair of binoculars and I suddenly realised they were over 20 years old now, the signs of wear were already showing on the casing, but the sights through the viewers were still as keen as if they were new, I saw clouds folding over the far end of the mountain in ways that would fill you with wonderment. Sometimes, the best appreciation of the beauty of our world can only be captured in experience rather than in pictures.
Then, I took the middle distance walk on top of the mountain spending about 3 hours there just taking in the views before descending via the cable car, this time, the floor was not rotating and I still could not tell the difference between the ascent and the descent, but that was one of my Cape Town goals completed.
Atop Table Mountain

Thursday 10 December 2015

South Africa: Originally from the expected

The identity conundrum
Every time I travel, I am always caught in the other person’s dilemma of cultural identity and their expectations based on assumption or stereotype.
Telling them who I am usually does not align with who they expect me to be, some might express polite surprise whilst others will indignantly expect me to fit into some preconceived pigeonhole to satisfy their inability to understand the concept of third culture kids.
The number of times I have had to argue the idea of where I am originally from on this trip to South Africa has tested my patience, much as I tried to offer an educational context to the matter of cultural identity.
All that I am
I am an Englishman, born of Nigerian parents in England, for what is essentially my outlook to life based of cultural influences of affiliation and residence, I am generally European with a strong Nigerian heritage I cannot repudiate, neither do I intend to repudiate all the cultural inputs that make up who I am.
Yet, I know that for all the time I did live in Nigeria, I was treated as an outsider, given much liberty to either ignore or be excused from traditions those originally Nigerian were expected to observe and adhere to. That does not mean I have not been in the deep recesses of certain ritualistic activities that are impossible to narrate to any logical mind.
Then, I am expected to be married with children, it appears to be the norm, yet, I don’t do norms, I have rarely ever done norms and so to the question of family, I always respond, I have a large family of one.
The gleam and shine
So, when on Friday, I passed through the domestic terminal of the O. R. Tambo International Airport and after the security checks I was accosted by a number of good-looking young men in black waistcoats, I soon realised they were offering to shine my shoes for 30 Rand.
I was persuaded to take up the offer and I sat on one of the high chairs to have my shoes, cleaned, buffed and shined. After the application of the polishing wax, I noticed the shining process also involved dipping the buffing cloth in water to bring out the shine, bringing out a gleam that lasted days after the job.
I soon learnt they were all on commission, hired by some gang master who probably creamed off their tips too, the young man who shined my shoes had studied electrical engineering.
Such amazing craftsmanship
He could not stop commenting on the quality of the workmanship of my shoes, and I could say, he had seen a good few shoes. I proudly told him they were made in England, I bought them online from Samuel Windsor whose workmanship in shoes, suits, shorts, ties and trousers, I cannot fault. They are only let down by the courier agents they use for delivering the orders.
In the end, so a good job was done that it was easy to part with multiples of the cost of shining my shoes in gratitude and pride.
It was one of those mornings where you just felt so proud to be an Englishman with the realisation that some elements of exquisite craftsmanship have not be lost to our isles.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Cape Town: Weathering two interesting pilots

Cape Town must be done
As my weekends rolled by towards the penultimate one in South Africa, I realised I needed to visit Cape Town to do the main and essential things and yet there would never really be enough time to do Cape Town justice.
The last time I was in Cape Town, I could only do the short bus tour before I was whisked away to a colleague’s home where we had a typical South African barbeque called a braai.
After struggling a bit to arrange travel online, I decided to visit a travel agent and this proved really valuable in the information I got and the appreciation of what I could get done in two days of a weekend. I planned on going up the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and also visiting Robben Island.
The travel agent then booked the flights, accommodation and airport transfers, the tours were best booked in Cape Town as I was advised because the weather could be unpredictable.
First pilot acquaintance
In the airport lounge, a mother with two boisterous boys was busy on her mobile phone as I took a seat not far from them when I realised it was a family with the father being a pilot with South African Airways brandishing a 3-stripe epaulette.
They were conversing in Afrikaans, most of which I understood using my Dutch knowledge, I was struggled to get the gripe off my glasses when got up and presented me with proper lens cleaners. I thanked him in Dutch and also said I could understand Afrikaans too.
He first thought I was Dutch, at least, the subtle differences in language help determine whether one is speaking Dutch or Afrikaans, the expression of gratitude can be a Shibboleth.
A conversation ensued as I told them I was visiting Cape Town for the weekend and they were on their way home to Cape Town from Hong Kong. The most important bit of information I got was about the weather, he checked the forecast and though it was cloudy in Cape Town on Friday morning, he surmised from the wind and humidity factors that it would be a clear day to go up Table Mountain.
I quickly realised too that pilots probably knew just as much about the weather as meteorologists, because that determines how they fly, just as must as the weather is important to sailors and mariners too.
Second pilot acquaintance
On the flight, I had the window seat sat beside a lady who seems to concentrate on her music and iPad for most of the journey. The Airbus A340 wide-bodied airliner was a revelation, ample leg room, almost fully reclining seats you could step out onto the aisle without disturbing your co-passenger. The aisle itself was wide enough for people to pass without having to sidle through if another passenger were put their hand luggage in the overhead cabins.
I noticed that she was not only recognised by the crew but literally every one of them came round to say hello, including other crew that were travelling as passengers. At one brief moment when she did not seem to be doing anything, I decided to start a conversation by asking if she lived in Cape Town.
She did, and in the process I learnt that she was returning from a holiday in America and as the conversation developed, another crew member came round to say hello and then asked when she was getting her fourth stripe. And though both cabin and flight crew can get stripes, I decided to play safe and ask instead if she also worked for South African Airways and it transpired she was a long-haul flight pilot with three-stripe epaulettes and one of the two female pilots that fly such distances.
A much interesting person
She sometimes flies the aircraft we were on, which is sometimes co-opted onto the busy Johannesburg to Cape Town route. By a strange coincidence, the captain of the flight we were on was the other long-haul flight South African Airways female pilot.
We got to talking about how she loved flying and that she had always wanted to fly from the age of 10, the only downside to the job was fatigue management, from crossing an average of 6 time zones overnight that there were days it was difficult to say what day of the week they were in.
As we approached, Cape Town, she hinted that the hotel I was staying at served an amazing menu of milkshakes and looking out, she also predicted that the clouds will lift enough to not only be able to summit the Table Mountain but that the views will be stunning too, that afternoon. Pilots know best when it comes to the weather.
Our conversation about many other things continued until we parted ways at baggage reclaim, and so, I was set for Cape Town, picked up by the pre-arranged shuttle service.