Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thinking of Caroline and Erna on Freedom Day

We are going through extraordinary times at the moment as social entrepreneurs at Uthango Social Investments and new opportunities are opening up. As co-founders, Erna Sittig and I, need to make difficult decisions and we need wisdom and courage to make professional connections. 

The TED talk 'Looking Past Limits" is coming at the right time, when another social entrepreneur (Caroline Casey) - having worked in the corporate environment and now running the Kanchi Network - tells her story of courage and finding that true freedom is in finding yourself - being yourself. Kanchi is a not-for-profit disability organisation that works to change mindsets and behaviours and I have much respect for their approach. 

I find myself often being so hard on myself for not being able to do more in our work, to BE more, or go further... and much is related to the surrounding hardship we see in our day to day work. I find myself being frustrated when I am unable to raise funds for a project prompted by our engagement in poor communities, or when an initiative fails - even if by no fault of our own. (I remain stubbornly determined to make it work - when I should let it go). When times get tough, I turn inward too quickly I guess.

But then I listen to extraordinary people like Caroline and I look at the will and strength of our co-founder Erna - invited to speak at the upcoming World Economic Forum next week (so exciting!) - and I know that all will fall into place. It is a matter of living freely and authentically; and doing the best you can, where you are... impatience and all. Thank you. You bring freedom and peace to my mind by being free and peaceful in your approach. Thank you for the personal cost you have paid (sacrifices made) to be who you have become.

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa as we celebrate the first democratic elections in 1994 and I know that too many people are not yet economically free. More importantly, too many people are not freed from their prejudice and their narrow-minded socio-political views that lead to injustice or simply error of judgement in daily lives. And many of us are not free to be ourselves, due to the consequences that follow when we will go there...

Today I am thankful for people that have the courage to live freely. May you be blessed and inspire all of us. I am glad I hear your voices when I turn inward today.

Friday, April 22, 2011

AfriForum is not doing Boere any favors in Court...

There is a current law case in South Africa where the civil society organisations, AfriForum and others took Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, to court on a hate speech accusation against a segment of society. Earlier this year, he was banned to sing the song and this is a further step in the legal process. It is claimed that the song incites hatred and violence against farmers (called 'boere' in Afrikaans) which is of great concern in South Africa - with a farmer being more than 700 time likely to killed than a police person in our country. 

However, depending on its context and use, the same word 'boere' was also used (and still is) as a derogatory term, historically referring to the oppressors that constructed and implemented 'apartheid' - it was certainly in this context that the struggle song 'Dubula Ibhunu' was originally sung with the following lyrics:

Ayesab’ amagwala (Cowards are scared)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Dubul’ ibhunu (Shoot the boer)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Mama, ndiyeke ndidubul’ ibhunu (Ma, let me shoot the Boer)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Ziyareypa lezinja (These dogs rape)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)

Personally, I do not see how this process and action contributes in any way to the protection of minorities and how it could achieve better understandings and respect between different people in South Africa. The conversation in the court should be happening in our kitchens, in our communities, in town halls - between people...across the country. We never spend enough time with this, and should have...

This morning, I listened to the cross examination by the appointed AfriForum advocate and he has done no one any favors - least of all the Afrikaans-speaking community. His approach to enter into debate with Malema on the stand is just not effective at all and does not belong in a court in the first place. It belongs in civil society and should have been facilitated by institutions that promote democratic dialogue. You may have a few legitimate points AfriForum, but you are not winning here...and those very points are getting lost in the apparent prejudice and lack of strategy of the legal team...

Julius Malema says to AfriForum, "You cannot speak on behalf of all the farmers", and he is absolutely right - the organisation can also not speak for all Afrikaans people and I am embarrassed by the nature, content and sarcasm of the legal representative for an Afrikaans organisation representing some farmers. Do not get me wrong, I do not support the song/chant to be sung today - in favor of reconciling different races - and precisely to ensure that some young person that has not been part of the struggle, may one day misinterpret the song (against oppression) and go out and shoot a farmer, a criminal act. Only for this reason, it is indeed justified to request comrades not to sing the song. But the way in which the examination is done and the political, ideologically statements! by the AfriForum council is not doing boere any favor. 

It is maybe a good thing that the discourse displays the ignorance and fear of some 'boere' and their spokes persons so vividly. It shows all of us how much work still needs to be done in our young democracy - on basics, such as: respect for differences in heritage and experiences, socio-political linguistic interpretation of words and freedom of speech.

We have a long way to go. I am hoping the trial will have a good outcome to bring people closer together - but I fear the opposite is happening, and the upcoming local elections in our country will demonstrate if our democracy is still healthy. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Best of the Meerkats

absolutely made my day...

I have chosen the username 'metaMeerkat' four/five years ago and it has meaning for me in so many ways - least of it being that these African animals are social... and helpful - very much like the networks I belong to. I love the meerkat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you want to prolong? #Alzheimers: the toughest question

When one has a cold, you come to a bit of standstill and want people around you that care. I have the flu and now have more time to think - and tonight I watched a show called The Alzheimers Project - brilliant, but oh so close to the personal pain... and one question (asked by a medical doctor to the wife of a victim) resonated with me: "What do you want to prolong?" 
If you have a moment... do watch the segment or catch it on DSTV (103). There are bits of my lovely mom in all of the people in the video clip. I have not really ever blogged about Alzheimers and have avoided talking about it in depth - but have started a FaceBook page called "Vriende of Joey Steenkamp" for our memories of her. Join us any time.

And then this question tonight: What do you want to prolong? Without going into my mom's medical details, I can only answer with the woman in the video clip: the person I love, her - I want to prolong her... and yes, it is selfish. 

I wanted to tour the world with my mom, have her hold her grand children (yes, indeed)... I wanted to prolong our endless laughter about silly things we see when driving around, or just standing next to her at the stove making a creamy white sauce...and so much more. Just a phone call, a text message... her prayer when I go back to work after a visit. It is already mostly gone... I had to let go of each one by one and the choices I have to make are getting tougher each day. And every time I have to ask myself - is this decision for me, or is it for her. Medication may prolong her life a bit, but it also prolongs her illness, and she has no access to the four clinical trials in South Africa - all for earlier stages of the disease. So, hope has been slipping since her diagnoses...
One of my friends @acidicice in Twitter rightly said today: 
@metaMeerkat I think #Altzheimers is a very underrated and misunderstood disease. Most ppl think it's just memory loss :( 
She is my best friend. I am losing her. Indeed, it is not just "memory loss" and I am not ready for this illness. Neither was she. Who is... ever?

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